England’s leading doctor calls for extension of tax on high sugar product ranges

Reducing sugar content within a broad range of product groups has posed considerable challenges for the sector. Neill Barston reports on latest recommendations for potentially extending taxes upon the industry to encourage greater product reformulation

England’s leading doctor has called for potential extension of taxes on food groups including confectionery containing higher levels of sugar and salt, as part of a series of health recommendations.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, revealed in her annual report for the National Health Service that actively promoting a balanced diet, and improving physical activity were key elements of creating greater health for the nation.

The senior doctor said that based on the introduction of the UK’s sugar tax on the drinks sector, this should be extended to other food groups, acting as a financial disincentive for people buying products with comparatively higher sugar and salt content.

However, the recently introduced levies have met with concern from some within industry, with some initial studies indicating that increasing the price of goods may not necessarily have an impact on consumer purchasing decisions.

Government advisory body Public Health England recommended a 20% cut in sugar applying to a number of food markets including confectionery, but the sector fell significantly short of an initial 5% target by early 2018.

Despite an apparent lack of initial headway being made, breakthroughs have been achieved during 2018 with a number of manufacturers coming forward with sugar reduced products. This has included Nestle Milkybar Wowsome ranges, a 30% sugar-reduced Cadbury Dairy Milk bar due to hit shelves in 2019.

Other household brands such as Mars and Snickers are also set to be launched in a reduced sugar format from next month, further expanding options for consumers.
As part of her annual report, Professor Sally Davies explained that she had set out a vision for national health covering the period to 2040, which examined a complete range of aspects of encouraging healthier lifestyles.

She said: “I recommend that HM Government review the use of fiscal disincentives in relation to foods that are high in sugar and salt and also incentives to increase fruit and vegetable consumption.

“I welcome the Secretary of State’s vision paper, ‘Prevention is better than cure’ and his commitment to build upon past success in reducing salt consumption. From 2003 to 2011, an 11% reduction in population salt intake was achieved. This was attributable to the Food Standards Agency’s approach to salt reduction, which was transparent, with close monitoring and evaluation, but holding the threat of sanctions to the food industry if reformulation targets in foods were not met.

“This policy has been emulated across the world. Since 2011, progress on reduction of salt consumption in England has stalled,” said the chief medical officer as part of her recommendations.

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