Tax on soft drinks labelled “misguided”

Leading industry associations have rejected a call for a tax on soft drinks, stating it won’t address obesity and will most affect households that can least afford it.

The Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), the Australian Beverages Council, and National Retail Association (NRA) have labelled the call a misguided measure.

Geoff Parker, CEO of the Australian Beverages Council, said the attempt is a simplistic, quick fix that lacks real world evidence.

“Consumption of sugar from drinks in Australia has decreased significantly over a 20-year period at the same time obesity, overweight and diabetes rates have continued to rise. Clearly soft drinks aren’t driving the nation’s expanding waistline which makes this call for a tax illogical and clearly just a revenue raiser.”

The rejection of the tax comes after members of the Rethink Sugary Drink alliance, which includes the Australian Medical Association (AMA), Cancer Council Australia, the Australian Dental Association, Food for Health Alliance, and Heart Foundation, launched a new position statement urging the government to introduce a 20 per cent health levy on sugary drink manufacturers.

Theo Foukkare, CEO of AACS, said that consumers today have an extensive variety of drink options and know what’s best for them and their families.

“Across the country drinks fridges in convenience stores and petrol stations are evolving and today include a wide variety of low and no sugar options.”

David Stout, Director of Policy at the NRA, said that this type of discriminatory tax will only add pressure to household budgets at a time when most families are struggling with soaring cost of living pressures.

“The introduction of any sugar tax will have significant impacts on small and family businesses, from retailers to farmers and particularly in rural and regional areas of Australia. Tax policy should not be made up without consultation, without any significant economic impact analysis, including whether it will achieve its goals and how it would affect businesses.

“We urge the Government to invest in education, highlighting the need for healthier choices and more exercise. We don’t believe Australia can tax its way to a healthier society. The responsibility lies with everyone, and education is the key.”

In 2018, the Australian Beverages Council along with the nation’s largest non-alcoholic drink companies announced Australia’s first Sugar Reduction Pledge – a commitment to reduce sugar across their portfolios by 25 per cent from 2015 to 2025. As of 31 December 2022, pledge signatories had reduced sugar across portfolios by 18 per cent.

“The reduction in sugar has been achieved without price hikes to the weekly supermarket shop or making buying a drink more expensive when people are out and about. Since 2015 bottled water sales has outstripped sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drink sales and since 2022 no and low sugar drinks have accounted for more than half of all drink sales.

“This reinforces published peer reviewed research on more than two decades of drink consumption in Australia which revealed a long-term shift in Australians’ non-alcoholic drink choices over the period, including that Australians now drink almost five times more bottled water than they did two decades ago. Australians are making healthier choices for them and their families without another tax on their household budget,” explained Parker.

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