Ireland plans 30 cents per liter sugar tax

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12 Oct 2017 --- Ireland is proposing to bring in a sugar tax similar to the levy to be introduced in the UK amid concerns the country is facing an escalating obesity crisis. As the Finance Minister of Ireland, Paschal Donohoe set the country’s 2018 Budget, he  announced measures for a new sugar tax of 30 cent per liter on drinks with over eight grams of sugar per 100 milliliters, with a reduced rate of 20 cent per liter on drinks with between five and eight grams of sugar per 100 milliliters.

Minister Donohoe says the levy is consistent with what UK Prime Minister Theresa May is setting in Britain, which is due to come into effect next April. 

Responding to the Budget statement, Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy at the Irish Heart Foundation, says that the introduction of a sugar-sweetened drinks levy is probably the single most important action Government can take to tackle Ireland’s obesity crisis.

“This is a landmark day in the fight against what is now recognized as perhaps the biggest threat to the health of the nation,” he says. 

“The Minister’s announcement demonstrates a significant commitment on the part of Government to meet its duty of care to protect the health of children in particular. We are also encouraged by indications that the measure is already proving effective by prompting beverage companies to reduce sugar content to ensure products fall below the threshold for the tax.”

“The evidence shows the tax alone will reduce obesity, but its impact could be further magnified if at least a portion of the proceeds was ringfenced to fund measures targeted at children’s future health, particularly in disadvantaged areas where obesity rates are highest.”

He added how the new sugar tax could support a wide range of measures, including the development of new family food initiatives, further expansion of the country’s school meals program and provide free drinking water in schools.

More reaction to sugar tax plans in Ireland 
Michael Healy-Rae from Ireland’s Rural Independent Group has expressed his opposition to the introduction of a sugar tax.

Speaking in the Dáil [the Irish parliament], the Irish Independent politician said introducing a sugar tax will not make a difference and is another example of unwanted taxation that is a burden for Irish families. 

Meanwhile, soft drinks manufacturer Britvic Ireland claims that the sector has been singled out for the tax and cited its own reformulation journey that has led to approximately three-quarters of its Irish products being low or no sugar. 

Acknowledging industry’s contribution to sugar reformulation, Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris, says that Ireland’s sugar tax would net around €40m (US$47.5 million) in a full year. 

New study 
Ireland’s decision to join the growing list of countries to add sugar tax measures as a way of combat increasing obesity health problems within the world population, particularly amongst children, comes at the same time as a new study carried out by Imperial College, London and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The world will have more obese children and adolescents than underweight by 2022, it says. The number of obese children and adolescents (aged five to 19 years) worldwide has risen tenfold in the past four decades and if current trends continue, more children and adolescents will be obese than moderately or severely underweight by 2022.

The study analyzed weight and height measurements from nearly 130 million people aged over five (31.5 million people aged five to 19, and 97.4 million aged 20 and older), the largest number of participants ever involved in an epidemiological study. More than 1,000 researchers contributed to the research, which looked at body mass index (BMI) and how obesity has changed worldwide from 1975 to 2016.

During this period, obesity rates in the world’s children and adolescents increased from less than one percent (equivalent to five million girls and six million boys) in 1975 to nearly six percent in girls (50 million) and nearly eight percent in boys (74 million) in 2016. 

Combined, the number of obese five to 19-year-olds rose more than tenfold globally, from 11 million in 1975 to 124 million in 2016. An additional 213 million were overweight in 2016 but fell below the threshold for obesity.

Lead author Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial’s School of Public Health, says: “Over the past four decades, obesity rates in children and adolescents have soared globally, and continue to do so in low- and middle-income countries. More recently, they have plateaued in higher income countries, although obesity levels there remain unacceptably high."

The study was published in The Lancet ahead of World Obesity Day yesterday (11 Oct). 

The largest increase in the number of obese children and adolescents was seen in East Asia, the high-income English-speaking region (USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK), as well as the Middle East and North Africa.

By Gaynor Selby

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