Taxing sugary drinks too simplistic, says Heston

Heston Blumenthal has questioned the validity of a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and suggested that his fellow celebrity chef has oversimplified things in demonising the beverages.

“If Jamie [Oliver]'s promoting the fact that sugar's bad for you, then it's a great thing, but you can't just put tax on sweet drinks, you've got to put it on everything with sugar,” he said, according to a report in the Telegraph.

That drinks have been singled out for the sugar levy has puzzled others too. “We are the only category with an ambitious plan for the years ahead – in 2015 we agreed a calorie reduction goal of 20% by 2020,” said British Soft Drinks Association director general Gavin Partington, when the Chancellor made the announcement in last month’s Budget.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has also warned that the tax could lead to some consumers switching to chocolate for their sugar fix. Experts have argued that there’s no evidence to suggest this would be the case, however.

But substitution could be an issue if the tax is rolled out to include foods, according to the University of Oxford’s Adam Briggs.

“It’s less clear what individuals would substitute to and whether the subsequent overall diet is healthier," he told Footprint. For example, would people eat more unhealthy fats or salt as a result?

The tax on sugary drinks might also be an easier place to start, with a blanket tax on all products with added sugar likely to be more bureaucratic. “This isn’t to say it may not be a sensible public health thing to do, it just might not be as easy,” Briggs said.

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