Shadow health minister Luciana Berger this week ruled out the possibility of a Labour government imposing additional taxes on fizzy drinks and other high-sugar products.
In an exclusive interview with The Grocer, Berger said the party had decided against backing a sugar tax because it would increase food prices and be seen to punish cash-strapped consumers.
“We have never said we are in favour of a sugar tax and I can categorically say that isn’t the case,” said Berger, who this week hosted an obesity debate in Westminster involving MPs, NHS bosses, NGOs and the food industry.
Campaign group Action on Sugar and the National Obesity Forum have recently supported the idea of taxing products high in sugar. But Berger, whose party is coming towards the end of a review of its public health policy, cautioned against the approach.
“We should not be looking at any food ingredient in isolation,” she said. “Obviously, we have to do something to tackle the obesity crisis and one of the things that we have to look at is sugar. But there is no specific sugar policy. What we are suggesting is limits on the amount of sugar, salt and fat in food and we will be bringing these forward before the next party conference.”
Berger said Labour was also looking at regulation which could stop fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s being located in close proximity to schools and added that “stores like WH Smith which sell a huge amount of sweet confectionery” were also “high on our radar”.
The shadow minister, who has been behind an avalanche of parliamentary questions attacking the closeness of the DH to food companies, would not go as far as confirming Labour planned to scrap the Responsibility Deal, but said: “It clearly isn’t working.”