In a major blow to Jamie Oliver’s campaign, the government has formally rejected the chef’s online petition to introduce a 7p tax for regular-sized soft drinks with added sugar.
In response to the petition, which has nearly 150,000 signatures, the government said this week it “has no plans to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages”.
Here is how the industry and campaign groups have reacted to the news.
Ian Wright, director general of the Food and Drink Federation, said: “We need a proper national conversation about how to tackle obesity and improve the nation’s health. Jamie Oliver and his followers have an important contribution to make but the focus on a sugar tax is misplaced. So we are pleased that the government has definitively ruled it out. New taxes would hit those on lower incomes without improving the nation’s health.
“UK food and drink manufacturers are playing their part in taking on obesity. We do so through robust commitments on reformulation, portion size, responsible marketing and community interventions. Instead of kite-flying an anti-competitive advertising watershed, the government should rule out regulatory tools that just won’t work and will damage UK productivity and threaten investment.
“Obesity will only be beaten by a national partnership involving government, the NHS and health professionals, schools, retailers, restaurants and food and drink manufacturers. For goodness sake let’s crack on with creating it.”
Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Sustain Children’s Food Campaign, criticised the government’s decision. He said: “It seems absurd that the government is prematurely ruling out a potent part of its arsenal for reducing excessive sugar consumption. If the government is serious about tackling childhood obesity and diet-related ill health, then a sugary drinks duty must be one of the options that is on the table for consideration.
“The evidence is there on the benefits particularly to children’s health, along with the impact that the money raised could have if put into programmes to improve children’s health and protect the environment they grow up in.
“The public support this too, as shown through the online petition to government, which had over 100,000 signatures within 48 hours, and continues to gather more. There is real public appetite for robust measures that will make a difference, rather than a rehash of the failed Responsibility Deal, which has not.”
Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of Action on Sugar, echoed Clark, and said: “The government must act now in terms of implementing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and can no longer ignore the fact that the current nutrition policy, whereby the food industry is allowed to police itself, has, unsurprisingly, failed.
“What we eat is now the major cause of strokes and heart attacks, obesity and type 2 diabetes and is therefore the biggest cause of death and ill health in the UK.
“Action on Sugar calls upon the prime minister to immediately set a sugar reduction target of 40% for both food and drinks and a 20% duty on sugary drinks by 2020. A similar tax in Mexico has already reduced consumption by 12% and the UK must now follow.”