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The sugar debate: To tax or not to tax


Amanda Lyons


10/01/2018 3:50:43 PM

The argument over a tax on sugary drinks continues, despite the Federal Government’s refusal to implement one.

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Evidence has shown that sugar is a major factor in two in three Australian adults and one in four Australian children being considered overweight or obese.

The Federal Government has unequivocally rejected the implementation of a tax on sugary drinks, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proposing that health authorities focus instead on the promotion of healthy lifestyles.
 
However, almost two in three Australian adults are overweight or obese, while one in four Australian children fit the same category – and evidence has shown that diets high in sugar are a major culprit. In response, there have been strong and continued calls from medical community for the Government to reverse its decision regarding a tax on sugary drinks.
 
The Obesity Policy Coalition – which unites 34 community, public health, medical and academic organisations, including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and the Cancer Council – has maintained its recommendation for a tax on sugar. Earlier this month, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released its 2018 Position Statement on Nutrition, which included a similar recommendation that has received support from organisations such as the Public Health Association of Australia and the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association. When discussing the position statement on ABC Radio earlier this week, AMA President Dr Michael Gannon likened the fight over sugar to the war on tobacco.
 
But not everyone is on board with the so-called ‘war on sugar’. Industry organisations such as Australian Beverages and the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) have voiced their displeasure with a tax on sugar.
 
‘The Health Minister is on the record as ruling out the introduction of a sugar tax and we welcome this decision,’ AACS Chief Executive Officer Jeff Rogut said. ‘The views of business and consumer groups like ours are often not afforded the same level of consideration as the powerful health lobby, so we are especially grateful that in this instance, common sense seems to have prevailed.’
 
There has also been suggestion that a sugar tax would represent an erosion of personal accountability, and even signify a government deciding what people should and should not consume.
 
‘It is the consumer who decides what to put in their mouth and people need to take personal responsibility,’ Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud said. ‘Slapping an extra 40 cents on the cost of a can of soft drink will not stop people drinking soft drink, nor from buying a doughnut instead.
 
‘Increasing the family grocery bill will not magically make Australians skinny.’
 
While the RACGPis broadly supportive of a tax on sugar, President Dr Bastian Seidel has acknowledged it is unlikely to occur under the current Federal Government. However, he believes there may be other ways to reduce sugar intake and suggests looking to the recent agreement between the Singaporean Government and seven major soft drink manufacturers to cap on sugar in beverages by 2020.
 
‘Big soft drink companies should voluntarily reduce sugar content in carbonated beverages,’ he told newsGP. ‘This could happen now and would be to the benefit of all.
 
‘Furthermore, we should review which foods currently are exempt from GST.’



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