UK minister warns industry over sugar tax

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

UK minister warns industry over sugar tax

Related tags sugar tax Nutrition Sugar

Food and drink manufacturers and retailers could be forced to pay a sugar tax if they continue to sell unhealthy food, a UK minister has warned.

Speaking at a recent event, George Freeman, Life Sciences Minister, said sweet drinks and other sugar-rich foods were making Britain’s obesity crisis worse – and warned that companies that produce food or drinks that lead to poor lifestyles will be penalised

While Freeman said he did not think that ‘heavy-handed legislation is the way to go,’ he also noted that food and drinks products that clearly have a negative impact on health could be taxed in the future.

“I think that where there is a commercial product which confers costs on all of us as a society, as in sugar, and where we can clearly show that the use of that leads to huge pressures on social costs, then we could be looking at recouping some of that through taxation,”​ said Freeman.

“Companies should know that if you insist on selling those products, we will tax them.”

Freeman is the first minister to back calls for a sugar tax. Last year, Jeremy Hunt, the UK Health Secretary, ruled out a levy - saying the government would look at other ways to encourage people to eat more healthily.

Unworthy of being called ‘food’ 

Speaking at the same event, the Hay Festival, Professor Tim Lang from City University London, claimed that some companies were producing food so unhealthy that it was unworthy of the name ‘food’.

They should not be allowed to call unhealthy food 'food’,” he warned. “It should only be allowed to be called 'snacks’.”

“They are basically just using a raw food ingredient to wrap sugar and flavourings around,”​ Lang claimed.

Only yesterday, Tesco become the first supermarket to pledge to reduce the added sugar content of all of its own brand food and drink ranges – with a commitment to reduce sugar levels by 5% per year for the foreseeable future.

The UK Department of Health has also said it is not planning to introduce a sugar tax – but did note that a review of the idea is being carried out by Teesside University for Public Health England.

Despite being ruled out by the government previously, many figures at the UK Department of Health have publicly backed a sugar tax in the past - including Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, and Professor Susan Jebb, chairman of the Food Responsibility Network.

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