The mad frenzy over sugar has died down a bit in the past few weeks but it is set to be the calm before the storm.
Pressure on the industry, especially those most in the firing line such as soft drinks companies, will be back on soon, with a forthcoming report by the World Health Organisation and the release of SACN’s final report just two of the big events on the public health radar.
Public Health England, meanwhile, is exploring how a tax on sugar, or high-sugar products, could be used to try to persuade companies to drive reformulation, having admitted there was a lack of evidence as to whether taxes introduced in other countries had been effective.
The body will no doubt have been taking note of a new report commissioned by the EC , which suggests that a tax on fizzy drinks, mooted as a potential “low hanging fruit” in draft PHE plans, could have huge implications for consumer prices – above and beyond the tax itself.
The report found that to compensate for falling sales, drinks manufacturers in all the countries studied, including France, Denmark, Hungary and Finland, strategically put up prices by more than the increases in tax – thus actually boosting their profit margins.
Some countries witnessed price increases of more than twice that caused by the taxes themselves. In France, cited by PHE as potentially a scheme to follow, the price of low-calorie drinks shot up by more than 10%.
The UK does not have such a track record as some of these countries in passing on tax hikes, or “over-shifting” as it is known, yet there is no mechanic to stop it happening here.
Doubtless calls for a sugar tax will soon be back. But while there may be a lack of evidence over whether they can succeed, there are clear signs that they are a political minefield for any government foolish enough to bring them in.
As even Professor Jack Winkler, an adviser to Action on Sugar, admits, who would want to risk a repeat of the pasty tax revolt and the subsequent introduction and repeal of a fat tax in Denmark, traditionally “one of the more tax-tolerant nations on Earth”?