Sugar tax not so sweet for local industry

SUGAR is one of the major rural industries in the Clarence Valley, but worldwide its product is coming under attack from health professionals and legislators.

Last week the UK imposed a 25p (53c) per litre tax on sugary drinks which could add 8p (17c) to the price of cans of fizzy drinks like Coca-Cola, 7Up and Irn Bru, energy drinks like Red Bull and carton juice drinks like Ribena from 2018.

>> OUR SAY: Sugar tax sweetens the deal

The announcement also sent share prices in the soft drink industry tumbling.

When interviewed last month, NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative CEO Chris Connors dismissed reports of a sugar tax in Australia as mere speculation.

"It all depends on what happened, if the consumer stopped eating the product," he said.

"There's been lots of speculation about what the customer reaction would be and what the Coles and Woolworths people would do.

"That's where the reaction would come from initially.

"I would expect the Food Council to have some sort of say about it."

In Australia, federal Rural Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash has ruled out Australia introducing a tax on sugary drinks.

"I believe it is the role of people to choose what they eat and the role of government to give people access to accurate information to make good choices.

"People need to take personal responsibility for what they eat," she said.

But her views don't gel with many health experts, who have welcomed the news from the UK.

Dr Louise Baur, professor of paediatrics and child health in Sydney, said a sugar levy was a great idea.

"I fully support a sugar levy in NSW and Australia, such as will occur in the UK," she said.

"Sugar-sweetened beverages should not be a part of the diet of children and young people as it contributes to poor dental health and the risk of excess weight gain."

Professor Ian Caterson, from the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders, said this was something we needed to consider seriously and act on.

"With reducing childhood obesity being one of the NSW Premier's priorities, now is a great time to act," he said.

"Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) contribute to obesity by providing extra, unnecessary energy. Such a tax will make people think about whether they need a SSB or whether water will do.

"If they do decide to buy a SSB, then the extra tax can provide much-needed funds for health, or as in the UK for school sports activities."

Associate Professor Teresa Davis, from the University of Sydney Business School, is an expert in marketing who welcomes the British move.

"Similar proposals put here in Australia have been met with a great deal of pushback from industry in favour of self-regulation, which has clearly failed to curb the amount of sugar being added to processed foods," she said.

Dr Kieron Rooney, from the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney, said such a tax would be just a move in the right direction.

"Data published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year reported that, in Mexico, a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages did result in a reduction in purchases," he said.

"A tax can be part of a program that promotes a healthier diet."

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