29 January 2013

Sugar Tax Proposed - Misleading Comment from Industry

As you will see from the report below, there has been a proposition to impose a 20p per litre tax on sugary drinks. Well, I am not in favour of such taxes but, if anything should be taxed, this is probably a good one, in my view. But there are several parts of this report which show that proponents of both sides are trying to mislead.I have added comments as we go.

By Andrew Woodcock, Press Association Political Editor

Sugary drinks should be subject to a new tax, which could add 20p a litre to their price, with the proceeds going towards child health, a report said today.
The report by food and farming charity Sustain said that the Government could raise #1 billion a year from a sugary drinks duty to pay for free school meals and measures to encourage children to eat fruit and vegetables.
The levy would also help save lives by cutting consumption of sugar-laden drinks, said the report, which has been backed by more than 60 organisations including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, Friends of the Earth, the National Heart Forum and the Royal Society for Public Health.
Diet-related illness is now costing the NHS £6 billion every year, said the report.
Sustain urged Chancellor George Osborne to introduce a sugary drinks duty in his March 20 Budget and to channel most of the cash raised into a Children's Future Fund for programmes to improve children's health and future well-being.
The group's campaigns manager Charlie Powell said: "Sugar-laden drinks are mini-health timebombs, contributing to dental diseases, obesity and a host of life-threatening illnesses which cost the NHS billions each year.
"We are delighted that so many organisations want to challenge the Government to show it has a public health backbone by including a sugary drinks duty in Budget 2013.
"It's a simple and easy-to-understand measure which will help save lives by reducing sugar in our diets and raising much-needed money to protect children's health."
Sustain chairman Mike Rayner, of Oxford University's Department of Public Health, added: "Just as we use fiscal measures to discourage drinking and smoking and help prevent people from dying early, there is now lots of evidence that the same approach would work for food.
"This modest proposal goes some way towards making the price of food reflect its true costs to society.
"Our obesity epidemic causes debilitating illness, life-threatening diseases and misery for millions of people. It is high time Government did something effective about this problem." (Couldn't agree more. But I doubt they will. When the Obesity Steering Group reports on 25 February, I'll bet they advocate more of the same old, same old . . .)
Where this has gone wrong, in my view, is that Sustain is saying tax sugar (which is a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose) in soft drinks but encourage children to eat more fructose in fruit and glucose in starchy vegetables, or to put it another way: Discourage children to eat sugar which contains fructose and glucose, but encourage children to eat foods that contains fructose and glucose!

The director general of the British Soft Drinks Association, Gavin Partington, said: "Obesity is a serious and complex problem (He's right), but a tax on soft drinks, which contribute just 2% of the total calories in the average diet, will not help address it. (Right again. Lots of other carbohydrate-rich foods also contribute. Why just select one?)
"Over the last 10 years, the consumption of soft drinks containing added sugar has fallen by 9% while the incidence of obesity has increased by 15%. (Wouldn't surprise me. 'Healthy eating' is also fattening.)
"We all recognise our industry has a role to play in the fight against obesity, which is why soft drinks companies have already taken action to ensure they are playing their part. Sixty-one per cent of soft drinks now contain no added sugar (True, but they contain even more harmful artificial sweeteners) and we have seen soft drinks companies lead the way in committing to further, voluntary action as part of the Government's Responsibility Deal
Calorie Reduction Pledge.
"These commitments include, for example, reducing the sugar content in their products and introducing smaller packs. (But at the same price so children buy more of them and increase profit margins! - I suspect)
"At present, 10p out of every 60p can of drink already goes to the Government thanks to VAT. Putting up taxes even further will put pressure on people's purses at a time when they can ill afford it. (Not really. Who needs sodas?) It's worth noting that Denmark recently scrapped such a tax." (No, they didn't! The Danish government taxed saturated fats which are beneficial and tend to reduce obesity and associated diseases. They repealed the tax when - surprise, surprise - they found it didn't work.)


George Henderson said...

I don't have a problem with kids eating, say, fruit and potatoes instead of drinking sodas. If they have diabetes, definitely, or need to lose weight, most likely, they should restrict even these carbs, but will it harm them otherwise?
Not if the rest of the diet is supplying animal foods; meat, milk, eggs, fish; and butter.
Which is maybe not so likely to be the case these days, unfortunately.

Better than a tax on sweeteners as a primary intervention would be a complete and world-wide end to farming and fishing subsidies. Subsidies keep junk calories and oils from grains and soy cheaper than healthier options; fishing subsidies promote the waste of a precious and dwindling resource.

New Zealand has shown that a farming and fishing economy can thrive without subsidies.

Barry Groves said...

Good points, George.

I have never understood why food needs to be subsidised. It isn't as though we aren't going to buy it. And a food straight from the farmer or the fisherman has got to be cheaper than 'food' that has been highly processed

Although, that said, I suppose as far as the UK is concerned, as we seem much more interested in making our countryside fit for ramblers and golfers, rather than using it to grow food, coupled with the fact that we import over half of all the food we eat, most of that would be too expensive if it were not subsidised.

Except that real food, such as butter and lamb from New Zealand, which is about as far away from UK as it is possible to get, is actually cheaper here than locally-produced butter and lamb!

Which doesn't make a lot of sense!

SadButMadLad said...

Is obesity really a problem? All the stats are showing that obesity is a declining problem.

"Over time, there is little sign of the inexorable rise in obesity that underlies some of the concern about the issue. Rates for children did rise and peak in 2004 but have since fallen and are now no different to what they were in the late 1990s. We also seem to lack decent studies that have looked at why income (or living in a deprived area) might lead to higher risks of obesity." from http://www.jrf.org.uk/blog/2013/01/most-obese-people-are-not-poor

All Sustain (a fake charity) are doing is lobbying government to try and get more money sent to their friends the farmers. As you mention rather than sugar in drinks, kids will get sugar from food. It's the same sugar so the only difference is that farmers aren't getting any money when families buy soft drinks.

And there no such thing as empty calories or junk calories. Calories are calories are calories how ever they enter a person. What makes people fat is not enough exercise for the number of calories they consume. As for unhealthy eating, again there is no such thing. People can survive and live healthy lives (no medical problems) just by eating pizza. And don't worry about junk food. Again no such thing. Not everyone eats 365 days of the year at McD, it's more a treat. There are more calories consumed at restaurants than at fast food places.

And finally taxes. Governments continually fool themselves that imposing taxes will change people's behaviors. Well that's true they do, but always against the government's wishes. For instance, increasing taxes on cigarettes because its so unhealthy tends to cause more smuggling and a drop in tax remittances. A triple whammy - less tax to put towards handling the health problems from smoking, an increased cost in policing, and no change in the health of people who carry on smoking. As for a tax on soda which no one really needs, but which people like to drink, what will they do if they can't buy soft drinks. Will they buy a healthy option instead or will they spend it on. Nope, the elasticity of soft drinks means that people will keep buying it at the increased cost unless the price increases dramatically. A few pence won't make them change their minds, but it's also a few pence less to spend on something else or save.

All in all, taxing sugar is stupid.