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Sun Dec 04 22:19:35 SAST 2016

Gulp! Taxman no more Mr Sweet Guy

KATHARINE CHILD | 2016-01-11 07:33:49.0
Soft drinks. File photo.
Image by: Lori Martin / shutterstock.com

As countries around the world debate taxing unhealthy food, South Africa's food and beverage industry is gearing up to self-regulate by reducing junk food advertising to children, offering more lower kilojoule products and selling fizzy drinks in smaller cans.

A study last week showed that the sugar tax on soda instituted in Mexico - which is one of the world's fattest countries - in 2014 led to a 12% decrease in sales of sweetened drinks.

Professor Karen Hofman of Wits University's PRICELESS Unit says it is time to institute such a tax locally.

South African research on sugar tax shows that it would have a significant impact on the consumption of unhealthy foods.

"We can't afford to wait. Obesity and its consequences: diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes, are growing."

But Coke SA argues a tax on sweet drinks would be discriminatory.

Spokesman Camilla Osborne said: "Coca-Cola is not against taxation. However, we believe singling out beverages for additional taxes is discriminatory, and will not address the rising levels of non-communicable [lifestyle] diseases."

Coke is joining more than 40 food and drink companies and meeting with government officials to plan self-regulation. The industry wants to stop advertising food high in sugar and fat on TV stations with large child audiences.

Coke said it would sponsor research on how to reduce the amount of calories people consume and other ways to prevent obesity.

Companies are discussing how to improve labelling of junk food.

But Hofman is sceptical.

"World over, the industry preference is to self-regulate. Research shows that this never works. It is the equivalent of the fox guarding the henhouse.

"The only thing that really works are these taxes. The industry is concerned that this will have an effect, as it has in Mexico. The industry tried to repeal the tax on sweetened beverages in Mexico, but the policy-makers kept their word to improve the public's health."

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