UK government to reject taxes on sugar and salt within key confectionery and snacks ranges

The UK government is set to reject advice from its own commissioned reports and from health experts in failing to introduce taxes on sugar and salt within product categories including confectionery, reports Neill Barston.

According to leaked reports from the national food strategy covered by the Guardian newspaper among other national titles, the Prime Minister has knocked-back wide-ranging calls for introducing tougher measures on industry.

The PM reportedly claimed that he ‘did not want to see hard working families impacted’ by delivering such a move – which came despite pledging to take action on the issue amid the peak of the Covid-19 crisis, as NHS figures reveal that 63% of adults in England are obese, and a third of children leave primary school overweight.

Significantly, the government’s decision is set to ignore findings from its own commissioned report from Henry Dimbleby, whose review advocated introducing salt and sugar used in a host of processed foods. This would have been similar to taxation introduced on the drinks sector in 2018 – which has been widely found to have been a success.

Observers have noted that the government’s reluctance to introduce sugar taxes in food ranges comes amid a cost of living crisis that has been affected by the pandemic, Brexit logistics costs and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, placing strain on traditional supply chains – with shoppers already noticing significant increases in prices. Fears have remained that the cost of reformulating product ranges to cut out levels of sugar may be passed on directly to consumers in yet further higher retail price tags.

As previously reported, Public Health England tasked the food sector in 2017 with reducing sugar levels within confectionery and other snacks ranges, though results from its progress after more than three years found that there had been little progress – with levels in chocolate ranges actually having found to have actually increased over the past five years.

Health campaigners have expressed concern at the latest apparent decision from the government – which has already delayed introducing advertising bans on high fat, salt and sugar ranges (HFSS) by a year following industry lobbying expressing concerns over the impact on the sector that such a move may have.

Confectionery Production has covered the issue, noting that the sector had seen few successful launches of sugar-reduced chocolate confectionery, though several brands including Mars, Nestle Mondelez had attempted to make headway with new product innovations, though few had proved prominent within global markets.

Responding to the leaked UK government food strategy report, Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar and Action on Salt campaign group, labelled the decision by government as ‘shambolic’ in failing to put forward concrete proposals.

He said: “The National Food Strategy proposed bold, evidence-based recommendations that would have had an enormous impact on improving our food system, making healthier food more available and accessible to all. This included a key recommendation to tax the food industry to ensure they remove excess salt and sugar from their products and help protect the nation’s health from the devastating effects of unhealthy diets – the biggest cause of death and disability globally.

“However, today’s announcement makes it abundantly clear that our Government is in the pocket of the food industry and has no desire to bite the hand that feeds it. We can only assume that Sajid Javid has chosen not to implement these tailor-made recommendations for political reasons which completely contradicts the Government’s levelling up ambitions. This shambolic decision will no doubt massively impact the NHS and the nation’s health which will suffer the consequences and escalating cost of treating obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and tooth decay (all linked to our very high and unnecessary sugar, salt and saturated fat intakes) that the food industry is entirely responsible for,” added the professor, whose concerns have been shared by a number of medical sector bodies.

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