U-turn on UK sugar tax? Health bodies hold breath as Truss considers scrapping soft drinks levy





20 Sep 2022 — UK Prime Minister Liz Truss is under increasing pressure not to end the multi-year sugar tax on soft drinks and to keep previously laid out healthy eating strategies on track.

Health groups say a backslide on dietary policy could fuel obesity and, importantly, all the funds raised from the UK’s sugar levy over the past four years will be spent on funding obesity-related treatments through the NHS.

“It would be a radical departure to return to a policy that had the support of a majority in Parliament when it was adopted. [Truss] Leaves no opportunity for formal consultation, extensive debate, or review,” said Katharine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance FoodIngredientsFirst.

“She would give her MPs, the vast majority of whom support the levy, the choice of either accepting the move or rebelling against a package of measures that includes vital help on energy bills,” she continues.

Successful tax?
Jenner points out that the UK sugar levy has been one of the few measures so far that is good for business, health and government through tax revenue.

“The levy has already removed 48 million kilos of sugar from the nation’s diet through reformulation, but has had no negative impact on business. Retail sales of soft drinks grew a further 5.6% to £3.39 billion (US$3.87 billion) in 2021,” says Barbara Crowther, coordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign.

The sugar levy is also a source of revenue for the UK government, bringing in £301m (US$344m) for FY2020-2021, compared with £337m (US$386m) for the previous FY2019-2019 2020). ) and £240 million (US$275 million) in 2018–19.

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government turnaround
The sugar tax helped reduce sugar consumption in soft drinks by 30%. According to the Obesity Health Alliance, it helps reduce “empty calories” from soft drinks, rising obesity rates and poor dental health.

“It is dangerous territory to go from having an inadequate strategy to having no strategy at all. This U-turn by the government would not only further delay an already urgent response to a UK health crisis, but also squander the significant investment that has so far been spent on the National Food Strategy 2021, which aimed to tackle obesity, the junk food cycle , health inequalities and access to genuine whole foods,” adds the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT).

Currently, drinks with more than five grams of sugar per 100ml are taxed at 18p (US$0.21) per liter, while drinks with eight grams or more of sugar per 100ml are subject to an additional tax of 24 pence (US$0.27). per liter.

Nanny State Leiden
Truss championed a campaign with the message “No New Taxes” and vowed not to accept plans to limit multi-buy offers on foods and drinks high in sugar, salt and fat.

“[People] don’t want the government telling them what to eat,” she said in her campaign to become leader of the UK Conservative Party.

She has previously stated that “taxes on treats hit those on the lowest incomes” and that people should “choose freely” about what they consume and have “sweet freedom” as she embraces personal responsibility.

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Truss’ attempts to cut sugar taxes are seen as an attempt to deal with the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, where inflation is rife, hitting 9.9% in August — 13.1% on food inflation. A tax abolition would also help cut red tape for businesses to revitalize economic growth.

Both sugar taxes and obesity hit the poor disproportionately; Proponents argue that it helps fund breakfast programs and sports initiatives in schools in poor areas. And that the real monetary benefit lies in a reduced healthcare bill.

“Junk food does nothing to alleviate hunger in households that are struggling to get food on the table. In fact, research shows that ultra-processed foods impair appetite control and make people hungrier, making the problem worse and ultimately leading people to spend money they don’t have on food, or worse, abstain from it,” says Satu Jackson, CEO of BANT.

“Over 2,000 school breakfast clubs, school holiday programs feeding a million children and primary school sports and equipment have been funded as a result of the £300m ($343m) raised each year through the successful Soft Drinks Industry Levy,” adds Crowther .

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of Action on Sugar and Action Salt, put the annual cost of unhealthy eating in the UK at £100 billion (US$115 million).

Paralyzing effect on sugar
A much-anticipated British report on his fight against sugar has still not been released, much to the chagrin of campaign groups. The report, which had to be published a year ago, has been postponed to this autumn but has yet to be made public.

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Additionally, Britain’s food strategy for healthier foods and sugar reduction has been in a paralyzed state as former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson feared new taxes would push up food costs.

“This chaotic decision will no doubt have a massive impact on the NHS and the health of the nation, which will suffer the consequences and rising costs of treating obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay,” McGregor said.

Experts sound the alarm
A reversal in dietary policy could lead to growing food inequality and exacerbate the country’s already high obesity rate.

dr Sally Moore, Professor at the University of Leeds, tells FoodIngredientsFirst that a change of plan by the Truss administration would delay the “much needed transformation of UK food retail”.

“Current obesity rates in the UK are unacceptably high and the levels of saturated fat, sugar and salt we consume exceed recommended health levels,” Moore points out.

“The anti-obesity measures were designed to make it easier for companies to do the right thing and to ensure they don’t lose out to cynical competitors who profit by making customers ill. A reversal against them now will undermine the hard work of progressive companies and squander millions of pounds invested in making their products and shopping environments healthier,” concluded Ben Reynold, Sustain Executive Vice President.

By Marc Cervera

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