Soft drinks lobby claims sugar tax is 'all cost, no benefit'

The Irish Beverage Council has said it will add €60 to people's grocery bills but won't solve obesity...

The Irish Beverage Council (IBC) has warned that a sugar tax won't have any health benefits and will increase the average grocery bill by €60 annually.

In a new report released today, it also says that the proposed 10c levy on cans of soft drink would cost the Exchequer €35 million a year and could threaten employment and future investment in the country.

The pre-budget submission states that despite being introduced in a number of countries, sugar taxes have never reduced the consumption of sugar or decreased levels of obesity.

Kevin McPartlan, Director of the Irish Beverage Council – the IBEC group that represents companies selling soft drinks and juices in Ireland – argued that the tax has been proven not to work in other countries.

"We have to follow the evidence here," he told Newstalk Breakfast this morning. "And when you have a hypothesis and it's tested, if it fails to work, you don't say 'well then we'll keep trying it because it might work in the future.'

"It has been tried in a number of countries. It has been tried in a number of states in the US. And there's a good example... In the states in the US that have introduced a sugar tax, their obesity rates are absolutely identical to those which haven't."

The tax is being considered for Budget 2017 as part of a range of measures to tackle Ireland's growing obesity problem.

While Donal O'Shea, the Chair of the College of Physicians Policy group on obesity, agreed that the tax won't work in isolation, he can see potential health benefits when combined with other measures.

O'Shea said:

"I am 100% confident that on its own, a sugar tax will do nothing. But it's part of a range of measures where you actually use the money you generate to ring fence and educate and teach cookery skills and teach the life skills that frankly we've lost over the last 40 years. Then you can begin to see an impact in 10-15 years' time."

Fundamental questions

The IBC report states:

"We recognise the problem of obesity, overweight and related disease in Ireland and are fully committed to playing our part in solving that problem. Our commitment has been well demonstrated by our efforts to reformulate products and introduce innovative new products containing less sugar and fewer calories.

"The FDII / Creme Global Reformulation Report launched by then Minister for Health Leo Varadkar showed that IBC members took 2500 tonnes of sugar and 10 billion calories out of the Irish diet each year between 2005 and 2012.

"The commitment contained in the Programme for a Partnership Government to introduce 'a health levy on sugar sweetened drinks' raises a number of fundamental questions which have yet to be answered.

"IBC would welcome consultation with Government to gain clarity on the objectives of this levy. It remains unclear whether this is being introduced solely as a revenue raising measure or as a health levy with a related strategy."

The group has called on Minister for Finance Michael Noonan to delay the implementation of the levy to facilitate further discussions.