David Cameron’s childhood obesity strategy will include plans for a sugar tax, though the industry looks set to be given a last chance to prove reformulation can work before ministers press the button.
Senior industry sources have told The Grocer they are convinced the PM will do a u-turn on his opposition to a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks, which could then be extended to other products.
However, they expect his Childhood Obesity Strategy, due at the end of this month, to fall short of pushing ahead with taxation immediately, and instead focus on other proposals, including sugar reformulation targets modelled on the FSA salt reduction efforts of the 1990s.
The government is also expected to launch a crackdown on advertising to kids as well as new moves to limit promotions of HFSS food.
Health minister Jeremy Hunt this week told the BBC a sugar tax was not “off the table”; industry figures went further, saying they were now sure the strategy had support from the PM.
One source said taxation would be “hung like a sword of Damocles over the industry”.
“Hunt has said that if it’s not a sugar tax it will be something just as robust, but it’s hard to see what else would satisfy the heath lobby,” he said. “I think we will see the strategy give a limited time for the industry to achieve reformulation targets, or face a tax.”
Another source added: “I’m certain a sugar tax is going to be in the strategy as a threat to the industry and it may also feature as part of an ongoing consultation.
“This would be a way of keeping the sugar tax on the table and proving to the health lobby that they are serious.”
The government is understood to have already held talks with leading retailers and suppliers to gather support for new targets. which would meet the call from Public Health England (PHE) in October for a “broad, structured and transparently monitored programme of gradual sugar reduction” .
The government will say it will not hesitate to “name and shame” those companies that fail to respond.
The government is also expected to try to tackle the issue of in-store promotions, which PHE claims are skewed towards HFSS products. It has already been talking to retailers about what voluntary action they can take.
However, the BRC has previously warned such a crackdown would also only work if it were mandatory.
At the same time, Cameron is expected to launch a sweeping review of the rules on advertising to children, which will include a shake-up of the nutrient profiling model used by Ofcom to define HFSS products, which would be widened to cover non broadcast media, including the internet.
The expected package of measure would cover all the areas recommended in PHE’s proposals, as well as reflect the calls by the health select committee inquiry last year.
Jamie Oliver said this week if the government failed to do a U-turn on the sugar tax he would launch an “underground ” campaign to have the government kicked out and vowed to “get more ninja”.