Don’t let tax on sugary drinks lose its fizz

As one broadsheet leader writer put it in this morning’s paper, “As budget day rabbits go, this was not sweet, but it was cute. More than that, it will improve the health of generations of schoolchildren.”

They were of course referring to the Chancellor’s shock Budget announcement that from 2018 there will be a tax on sugary drinks. It was a move that thousands had hoped for – certainly all of those who had signed Jamie Oliver’s petition – but few had anticipated, particularly after months of backroom briefing that suggested that the Government had turned its back on such a proposal despite the UN, Chief Medical Officer and NHS Chief Executive all lending a sugar tax their support, at some level or other.

So what does it mean?

Well, from 2018 the levy will fall on the manufacturers, and unsurprisingly the Food and Drink Federation derided the announcement as a “piece of political theatre. The Chancellor argued this would give companies the time to reformulate their drinks. But some commentators questioned whether the manufacturers will pass on the rise to consumers.

The tax itself is three-tiered.

Drinks containing less than 5g of sugar per 100ml are exempt

Drinks containing 5-8g per 100ml will be subject to a levy of 18p per litre

Drinks containing more than 8g per 100ml will be subject to a levy of 24p litre.

When you hear statistics like five-year-olds consuming their own body weight in sugar every year and a quarter of children leaving primary school obese, it’s impossible not to wholeheartedly support measures to tackle this behaviour that has such damaging consequences for individuals and society for widely. And a tax on soft drinks is a good place to start. A similar move in Mexico has resulted in a 12% fall in sales.

The retail sector is undoubtedly where the biggest opportunity lies but the foodservice, restaurant and hospitality sector does have a significant role to play, and Jamie Oliver’s very public position and campaign shows the power of our sector to influence opinion and behaviour.

Jamie and other restaurant businesses, including SRA members like Leon and Tortilla should be applauded for putting their money where their mouth is, introducing a voluntary levy on sugary drinks. This helped raise awareness and raised more than £50,000 for the Children’s Future Fund, paying for programmes to improve children’s health and protect the environment they grow up in.

Leon Co-founder John Vincent, whose restaurants followed Jamie Oliver’s lead and introduced a 10p voluntary levy, welcomed the news.

The sector has in recent years taken a number of significant steps to offer diners a range of healthier options and we will continue to support and encourage it to take further positive steps.

It is of course important to remember that sugary drinks are only one source of high levels of sugar in children’s diets. Our loss of connection with how and where food is produced is a significant contributory factor and that’s why it is hugely important for restaurants to be transparent about what is in the food they are serving. Hidden sugar and a lack of transparency are a significant contributor to poor diet and poor health. Unless you were baking a cake, you wouldn’t dream of putting 12 spoons of sugar or for that matter salt into a dish you were preparing yourself.  So neither should restaurants.

We await the Government Childhood Obesity Plan, now expected in the summer, with bated breath – will there be any more cute rabbit tricks? Let’s not forget that this this is the same Government that ditched plans for minimum alcohol prices, a pasty tax and sold off school playing fields. Let’s hope the tax on soft drinks hasn’t gone flat come 2018.

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