Sugar tax ‘may force shoppers to cross border’

The food and drinks’ industry has warned shoppers could end up crossing the border to bulk buy fizzy drinks, chocolate, crisps, and biscuits if a 10% sugar tax is introduced.

The tax is one of a number of recommendations to be put to Health Minister James Reilly by a special advisory group on obesity.

Experts say the tax would act as a “wake-up call” to people consuming too many of the wrong foods. Doctors also believe that it would “start a conversation” about nutrition, healthy diet, and sugar-laden foods.

Efforts were made to introduce a “sugar tax” on soft drinks before the 2012 budget. However, these were thwarted when the soft drinks’ industry claimed the sector was being unfairly targeted.

According to the Beverage Council of Ireland and Food and Drink Ireland, Denmark recently abandoned a fat tax only a year after implementation. It also shelved plans to introduce a sugar tax because jobs were at stake from cross-border trade and the measures were creating little or no health benefits. The beverage council said it fully backs plans to tackle Ireland’s obesity rates, but said they are “deeply concerned by reports about the possible introduction of a tax on soft drinks”.

“In Ireland, 60% of people do not consume sugar sweetened beverages and as a result these products contribute none of their daily calorific intake,” said the council’s spokesman Declan Jackson. “Of the 40% who do consume these products they contribute 3.6% of the daily caloric intake, yet the obesity profile between both groups is identical.

“A discriminatory tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would do nothing to address the obesity rates of the majority of people, as they do not purchase the products, as well as having little or no impact on those for whom sugar sweetened beverages make up only 3.6% of their daily calorific intake.”

Paul Kelly, director of Food and Drink Ireland, said consumers of sweets, biscuits, and chocolate here were already paying 23% Vat on such foods as they were considered non-essential, unlike foods such as meat, milk, and bread.

“We don’t need fiscal measures. Taxation doesn’t work,” he said. “When people have to pay high taxes, they will just trade down in prices or look to shop across the border as has happened in Denmark. A more sustainable approach needs to be taken.

“We need targeted solutions. Voluntarily, the foods industry has been putting nutritional information on foods stuffs for years and under new laws there is soon to be more detailed nutritional information on the front of pack. This will educate people more than taxation.”

The beverage council says obesity rates rose from 14% in 1996 to 23% in 2007, yet between 2000 and 2011 the sales of sugar sweetened beverages fell 19%.

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