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Simon Hamilton rules out sugar tax for Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 07/01/2016

Type 2 diabetes is linked to unhealthy lifestyles, including obesity
Type 2 diabetes is linked to unhealthy lifestyles, including obesity
Jamie Oliver, with his son Buddy, backs a tax and wants parents to avoid giving their children sweetened soft drinks

There will be no sugar tax in Northern Ireland for the time being, the Health Minister has said.

In an Assembly answer yesterday, the DUP's Simon Hamilton came out against a levy on sugary drinks, which have been blamed for obesity in children.

"I have no plans to introduce a levy for sugary drinks in Northern Ireland," Mr Hamilton said.

Nevertheless, a motion for an Assembly debate on the issue has been tabled by Ukip MLA David McNarry, who wants a tax considered and a report prepared for Stormont's health committee with three months.

Mr McNarry's position puts him at odds with his party leader Nigel Farage, who said on the BBC's Question Time in October that "education, not tax" was needed to combat obesity.

But Strangford MLA Mr McNarry said: "Simon Hamilton has the power to set the standards for other to follow."

Action would lead to increased protection of the health of children's teeth, the MLA added, pointing to a recent study of 3,400 youngsters aged between four and 10 which showed that some five-year-olds "consume their body weight in sugar each year with drastic repercussions".

"We need to have sugar options removed, especially for children," Mr McNarry argued.

"I'm not in the business of telling mums and dads what to do, but to those seemingly oblivious to the dangers of sugar I stick to my call for a sugar tax in the absence of a sugar ban."

Mr McNarry also told how he had become aware that even supermarkets wanted laws to force a 50% reduction in the sugar content of cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals and chocolate bars, as well as fizzy drinks.

Parents are urged to make healthier food choices after worries some children consume their bodyweight in sugar annually
Parents are urged to make healthier food choices after worries some children consume their bodyweight in sugar annually

"This is a dramatic U-turn for supermarkets and it shows the way forward for mums and dads and their children," he insisted.

And claiming the silence from Mr Hamilton had been "alarming", Mr McNarry said: "I call upon him to spell out now his policy thoughts on restricting sugar as part of a child's daily diet. Simon Hamilton has the power to set the standards for others to follow.

"I challenge him to break out from his hesitancy mode and introduce new rules in the final months of this Assembly."

Health experts say a sugars tax should be introduced to increase the cost of sugar-rich food and drinks
Health experts say a sugars tax should be introduced to increase the cost of sugar-rich food and drinks

The Welsh Assembly last month backed the idea of a tax, drawing on the experiences of countries such as Mexico, France and Hungary, where similar measures have been approved.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver backed Plaid Cymru's policy following his high-profile meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron on the issue last year.

"The food and drinks lobby might try to present me as a TV chef who has got too big for his boots,"Mr Oliver said. "But I'm basing my arguments on the evidence of numerous doctors and scientists."

There have been estimates that a tax would add about 7p to the price of a 330ml can of fizzy drink.

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