As part of the Social Security budget approved last week (27 October), the French National Assembly backed proposals to introduce a sliding scale to the country’s so-called soda tax that would penalise products that contained high levels of sugar.
A flat-rate sugar tax of €7.53 per hectolitre has been in place on all products containing added sugars since 2013. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health wants the amended tax to take account of the level of sugar contained in products in order to provide beverage manufacturers with greater impetus to reduce sugar levels through product reformulation.
Under the plans, the tax would be triggered at 1g of added-sugar per 100ml of product and will increase to around €20 per hectolitre for products containing more than 11g of added sugar per 100ml.
Defending the move, Minister of Solidarity and Health Agnès Buzyn said in an interview with CNews that sugar “kills a lot”.
According to the OECD, obesity levels in France have been “steadily increasing”. About one in 10 people are obese in France and almost 40% are overweight. OECD projections indicate that overweight rates will increase by a further 10% within ten years.
‘Highly damaging’ comments
The sugar sector reacted angrily to Minister Buzyn’s statement, with sugar beet body CEDUS Le Sucre describing the comments as “highly damaging” and “not acceptable”.
CEDUS conceded that the “excess” consumption of sugar was a contributory factor to France’s obesity epidemic but added that it is “too easy” to use sugar as a “scapegoat”.
“Regarding the complex issue of the links between food and health, the industry does not want to believe that it is anything other than a simplistic shortcut by which a part (sugar) becomes the whole,” CEDUS insisted.
The industry body stressed that sugar “legitimately” contributes to a pleasurable diet and insisted that only a proportion of the French population consumes more sugar than is recommended. French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) recommends people should not exceed a daily sugar intake of 100g. CEDUS suggested that average French consumption stands below this level, at 80g a day. The group argued that only 20% of French adults and 30% of French children exceed the target intake and suggested that “prevention” and “dietary advice” should be used to tackle the issue in at-risk groups.
“We support actions to focus on the prevention of obesity and diabetes through educational approaches,” CEDUS said. “We are aware of public health issues related to food and will support measures to optimise sugar levels when it brings a nutritional benefit.”
Sugar tax as tool to fight obesity
Despite pushback from the industry, taxes on high-sugar products are increasingly viewed as a means to fight rising obesity levels by European governments.
Both the UK and Ireland plan to introduce a levy on high sugar products in 2018, with the aim to reduce consumption. Finland, Portugal, Spain and Estonia all operate similar tariffs.
Meanwhile, last year the World Health Organization argued that the introduction of sugar taxes could result in “proportional reductions in consumption” – particularly if they raise the retail price by 20% or more.