Fizzy drink


The food and drink industry today launched a major campaign to try to kill off George Osborne’s sugar levy before it can even get off the ground.

More than a dozen trade associations and companies representing thousands of businesses across the UK called on new PM Theresa May to ditch the levy, claiming it would do little to tackle obesity but would lead to higher prices for the public and thousands of job losses.

Organisations involved in the campaign - dubbed Face the Facts, Can the Tax - include the British Soft Drinks Association, the FDF and the NFU.

However, others representing wholesalers, packing companies, off licences, pubs and convenience stores have also signed up, with the campaign stressing the potential economic impact across the wider supply chain.

The launch comes days after a report by Oxford Economics, commissioned by the BSDA, claimed the levy would lead to a loss of more than 4,000 jobs across the UK and a decline of £132m in economic output.

“This is a very broad alliance of companies right across the supply chain, which is seeking to set out the massively negative economic impact that this tax would have across a whole range of businesses,” said BSDA director general Gavin Partington.

“The fact is that it is companies like small pubs and off licences which will be hit harder by this tax than the big soft drinks companies. It will also hit those consumers who can least afford it the hardest in the pocket, which flies completely in the face of what the government has set out as its priority. This is a perfect time for the government to regroup, realise that this tax is not the way to tackle obesity and think again.”

From 2004 to 2014, sales of ‘full sugar’ soft drinks fell 44%, and now contribute less than 3% of calories in the diet, yet the campaign points out that obesity increased by about 4% in the same period.

“We’re certainly not saying that the government shouldn’t be looking to do something to tackle obesity,” added Partington. “It’s a massive political challenge but we just argue that taxation isn’t the right way.”

FWD chief executive James Bielby added: “Soft drinks are worth £1.8bn in sales to wholesalers serving retailers and caterers and is a vital category for the sector, Introducing a levy on soft drinks in the UK creates a new opportunity for unscrupulous importers to bring tax-avoided products into that supply chain. This would hugely disadvantage British manufacturers and wholesalers and is just one of the many unintended consequences of using such a blunt instrument to change consumer habits.”

However Action on Sugar chairman Professor Graham MacGregor said the campaign was driven by industry greed rather than health concerns.

“This is a complete scandal and clearly cheap scaremongering from the soft drinks industry. In actual fact, the sugar drinks tax will switch people to lower sugar or artificially-sweetened drinks which are cheaper to produce than sugar-sweetened drinks, meaning that in reality soft drink companies will make more money,” he argued.

“Sugar-sweetened drinks are the biggest contributor of sugar intake in the diets of children and teenagers and unless they are cut back there will be an increase in the levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay, all of which are preventable and cost the NHS billions of pounds each year, unnecessarily.”

Face the Facts, Can the Tax, full list of backers:

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR)

Automatic Vending Association

British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA)

British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA)

British Sugar

Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD)

Food & Drink Federation (FDF)

National Farmers’ Union Sugar Board, NFU Sugar

Packaging manufacturers Alpla, Plastipak and Pulse

Scottish Grocers Federation

Scottish Licensed Trade Association