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Calls for a tax on sugar are branded 'misguided'

Published 15/07/2015

A report says that a tax on sugary drinks will penalise people on lower incomes
A report says that a tax on sugary drinks will penalise people on lower incomes

Calls for a tax on sugar are "misguided" and would hit people from low income households who pay a higher proportion of their income on food and drink hardest, according to a report.

The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) said scant evidence exists to justify Government interference in the UK's food supply and Britons consume less sugar per head today than in 1900.

The report's authors argue the idea that sugar is addictive is a myth and insist that an "extensive choice of healthy alternatives exists for all consumers".

They said initiatives such as traffic lighting foods is unhelpful and ignores the important fact that it is diet, not a particular ingredient, that matters.

They argued that restricting advertising of certain foods is "foolish" as it would "deprive consumers of valuable product information and act as a form of censorship".

Competition would also suffer and prevent supply from meeting demand, which would result in more expensive food that is poorer in quality, they said.

They added that, despite a sharp rise in diabetes and obesity in the UK in recent decades, sugar consumption per capita has been on the decline since the 1970s, with Britons now consuming a fifth less sugar.

Co-author Rob Lyons said: "The justification for excessive Government intervention in the sugar market simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

"Not only is the link between sugar consumption and health issues such as obesity and diabetes weak, but the belief that the market falls short when it comes to providing healthy alternatives and adequate product information is simply not true.

"Rather than targeting one specific ingredient, health campaigners should focus their efforts on what matters - providing individuals with the best available information about what constitutes a balanced diet and allowing people to decide for themselves when it comes to what food to eat."

It comes as a final report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is due to be published on Friday, which will recommend the amount of added sugar in people's diets be slashed by half.

The report, which was published in draft form in June last year, will advise a reduction in sugar from the current recommendation of 10% of dietary energy intake to 5% - a move which has already been advocated by the World Health Organisation.

This is the equivalent of 25 grams of sugar for women and 35 grams, or seven to eight teaspoonfuls, for men.

Doctors' leaders became the latest group to join the call to tax sugar on Monday.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said a 20% levy on sugary drinks would be a "useful first step" towards the long-term goal of taxing a wide range of products in the fight to reduce obesity in the UK.

Its report, Food For Thought, warned that poor diet costs the NHS around £6 billion a year, and suggests imposing a minimum 20% tax on all non-alcoholic water based beverages with added sugar - including sugar-sweetened soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit drink, sports drinks and fruit-juice concentrates - which it said could subsidise the sale of fruit and vegetables.

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