To tax, or not to tax: that is the taxing question

Just a few weeks ago, I discussed the potential of the soft drinks levy being extended to other food groups, following the release of Action on Sugar’s six-point manifesto which calls for the tax to be extended to confectionery.

The group is urging government to implement a mandatory sugar levy on all confectionery products that contain high levels of sugar to ensure maximum impact to help tackle the obesity and type 2 diabetes crisis.

The argument for its extension is gaining ground, with Food Standards Scotland (FSS) welcoming the publication of a University of Stirling report which supports recommendations to extend the sugar tax beyond soft drinks.

Tackling the poor Scottish diet is a priority for FSS. The food watchdog says that unless action is taken now, 40 per cent of people in Scotland will be obese by 2030.

Dr Gillian Purdon, FSS senior dietary advisor, says, “Food Standards Scotland welcomes this report by the University of Stirling. We believe it is vital that action is taken to change the imbalance of in-store promotions in favour of healthier food and that consumers have the clearest possible information to make informed choices.

“The report supports Food Standards Scotland views and recommendations for the need to extend sugar tax beyond soft drinks, to reformulate products to reduce sugar fat and salt, to resize portions, address less healthy food promotion and to provide clearer consumer information on products in both the retail and out of home sectors. This report will help us to develop new approaches to improve the balance of food offered and promoted by the retail sector.

“It is clear that a combination of measures will be needed overall to enable healthier eating.  Regulation of promotions of high fat, salt and/or sugar food and drink within retail stores and out of home premises should be taken forward as a priority.”

While it is encouraging to see the FSS pushing ‘a combination of measures’ to tackle poor diets, as I said in my previous blog, shouldn’t we wait to see what, if any, effect the drinks tax has on obesity before extending it?

As Dr John Lee, of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation, notes, “This report seems to ignore the significant efforts of retailers to actively promote healthy products in-store and the efforts of manufacturers to reformulate products and reduce calories.

“Additionally, extending the sugar tax will make no real or lasting impact on diet related problems. Improved food education and awareness should be the priority rather than constantly shifting the responsibility for population health onto retailers.”

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