If Government is serious about reducing the sugar content in sweetened drinks it will enact the necessary legislation to ensure it happens, a leading consumer rights advocate has said.
At the same time, Director General of the Barbados Consumer Research Association Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt has led a stinging attack on proponents of higher taxes to control consumption, saying they appeared not to have “much common sense”.
“What we need is for our Government to impose prices that are reasonable and sensible and let the market do the rest. But you can tax this kind of [product] and hope that people will be dissuaded to buy it because it is a higher tax bracket, but that is foolishness.
“The truth is, by taxing soft drinks that is no answer to the problem. The answer to the problem is for Government to mandate what the sugar levels must be in the drinks and Government can do that,” Gibbs-Taitt argued.
Based on a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund, Government in August 2015 imposed a ten per cent tax on sweetened beverages to raise in excess of $10 million in the first year and to reduce consumption of sweetened beverages.
However, Minister of Health John Boyce reported last November the levy was not having the desired impact, as Bajans were still drinking large quantities of their preferred sugary beverages.
After a recent survey by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) found that soft drinks and some juices manufactured here carried alarmingly high levels of refined sugar, Richard Cozier, the managing director and chief executive officer of beverage manufacturer Banks Holdings Limited (BHL) said Barbadians were the ones rejecting drinks with less sugar and opting instead for the sweeter stuff.
Therefore, Cozier said while BHL was not averse to providing soft drinks with less sugar, the company was simple giving Barbadians what they wanted.
Gibbs-Taitt has dismissed Cozier’s conclusion, telling Barbados TODAY “the consumers can say what they like” but they can only purchase what is available to them, challenging the manufacturer to reduce the sugar levels in all its drinks.
“If you put 80 grammes of sugar in a [soft drink] people are going to still buy it. It is selling with large amounts of sugar but it is also killing us with large amounts of sugar. So because it is selling we keep loading it?” he asked.
There have also been calls in recent months for Government to raise the tax even higher.
Among those leading the call is retired medical doctor Sir Henry Fraser, who said the levy should rise to 30 per cent.
Gibbs-Taitt took specific aim at Sir Henry, describing the proposal in rather unfriendly terms.
“I thought you would ask now to have the sugar content reduced, instead what they are saying is put another 20 per cent tax on. It is absolute nonsense. We do not seem to have much common sense or if we do have sense it is not too common; one of the two,” Gibbs-Taitt said.
The United Kingdom last December published a soft drinks industry levy policy paper on a proposed a new levy on the production and importation of soft drinks containing added sugar.
It said the levy would be applied at a lower rate to added sugar drinks with a total sugar content of five grammes or more per 100 millilitres and a higher rate for drinks with eight grammes or more per 100 millilitres.
The authorities there said the levy would contribute to government’s plans to reduce childhood obesity by removing added sugar from soft drinks through the reformulation of the products to reduce the sugar content and reduction of portion sizes for added sugar drinks.
“If they do this, producers and importers of added sugar soft drinks can pay less or even escape the charge altogether,” the UK government said of the tax, which is due to take effect in April 2018.
Some beverage giants in the UK have since decided to accelerate plans to reduce sugar content and sell more low-calorie products.