Food companies question effectiveness of sugar tax, ban on pre-packaged sugary drinks
Food Industry Asia, an association of food-and-beverage companies, said that many scientific studies have suggested the limited effectiveness of a sugar tax on reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
SINGAPORE — A day after the Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed four measures such as a ban on high-sugar pre-packaged drinks and a tax on manufacturers and importers, an industry group has called for more options to be put on the table.
Made up of some of the largest food companies in the world such as Nestle, Coca-cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s and Mondelez, Food Industry Asia (FIA) said that many scientific studies have suggested the limited effectiveness of a sugar tax on reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.
Results in other countries that have rolled out such a tax are still uncertain, and “we should not make decisions based on such ambiguity”, said FIA executive director Matthew Kovac in a statement on Wednesday (Dec 5).
The MOH said on Tuesday, when inviting public feedback on its proposals, that about 45 jurisdictions have imposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. They include Brunei, Mexico, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. The ministry said the excise duties were effective in spurring companies to reduce the sugar content of their drinks.
The FIA welcomed the MOH’s decision to hold a public consultation, but it “believes more options need to be put on the table and that there should be a more collaborative multi-stakeholder approach, including the industry, to help solve some of these issues rather than present options like blanket bans or those that may be viewed as discriminatory in nature”.
The FIA disagreed with the proposed ban on high-sugar pre-packaged drinks, which the MOH defined as having an average of 5.5 teaspoons’ sugar per 250ml.
Mr Kovac said: "Consumption habits are hard to change and an outright ban on pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages will not guarantee an overall fall in sugar intake as consumers may simply choose other foods that can satisfy their needs."
The prevention of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes goes beyond sugar reduction and requires a balanced diet and active lifestyle, he added.
The Government declared war on diabetes in 2016. One-third of Singaporeans are likely to have diabetes in their lifetime and dealing with the disease costs the Government more than S$1 billion a year.
Diabetes is linked to many health complications such as heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure.
The average Singaporean consumes 12 teaspoons, or 60g, of sugar daily. More than half comes from sugar-sweetened beverages, of which pre-packaged drinks contribute 64 per cent of this intake.
Two other proposed measures by the Government are to have mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labels, and to have advertising regulations on less healthy sugar-sweetened beverages in the mass media, including social media.
Mr Kovac said it is important to ensure that consumers are not overwhelmed with multiple labelling schemes that may cause confusion.
The FIA will work with government bodies to develop and propose science-based nutrition labels that are easy to understand, he said.
On advertising, it will also work with regulatory bodies.
The FIA said that the obesity epidemic requires policies and measures that can influence and offer positive incentives for people to make better dietary and lifestyle choices — rather than “disincentives (such as taxation) that can influence negative substitution”.