The trade association Australian Beverages Council Limited (ABCL) says there is little evidence that policies such as sugar taxes work from a public health perspective and insists any economic sanctions would have a negative impact on jobs and sustainability.
He also argues that the report failed to acknowledge the industry’s significant reformulation efforts in recent years.
The recently published National Obesity Strategy 2022-2032(NOPS), authored by the Department of Health, made it clear that officials would consider using economic and policy tools to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks.
He said it would be “consider policy approaches that use price to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages while minimizing impacts on disadvantaged populations”.
But ABCL CEO Geoff Parker said: “There is already a price differential today. For example, there is a 10% GST on beverages.
“The NOPS is a far-reaching strategy and the fact that it was an extensive consultation, carried out over three years with over thousands of people consulted from the government, private and manufacturing sectors. We knew they were considering using the price.
“However, according to evidence-based global data, major cities do not have a tax on sugary drinks. For example, British companies have tried to reformulate drinks, but the overall sugar consumption of British citizens has still not decreased. Various conferences organized by the UN have also always abandoned the idea of taxing sugar.
At this point, Parker said it was difficult to predict the impact of the obesity plan on revenues and stressed that the ABCL supports policy based on statistics and evidence-based global data that does not are neither discriminatory nor regressive.
“There is no silver board or quick fix to (solving) a complex problem (obesity),”added Parker.
The ABCL is the representative body of the non-alcoholic beverage industry, made up of small, medium and large companies that collectively produce over 95% of the industry’s volume. Members contribute over A$7 billion (US$5.28 billion) to the Australian economy each year and employ over 46,000 people.
Industry efforts, gone unnoticed
He drew attention to the industry’s efforts to offer low-sugar or sugar-free beverages over the past 22 years.
For example, ABCL has accelerated and extended the renovation of its portfolio with its flagship product Sugar Reduction Pledgein June 2018.
Major beverage makers have signed on to a pledge to reduce sugar in their products by a targeted 20% for 2025. According to Parker, the industry had already seen a 12% reduction in 2020.
He said the four biggest drinks makers in Australia had signed the pledge – Asahi, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Europacific Partners.
The ABCL will release its progress report on the 20% commitment by 2025 next week.
These industry efforts have also been documented in a peer-reviewed report paperentitled “Sales of sugary drinks in Australia: an analysis of trends from 1997 to 2018”and published in the journal Nutrientsin 2020.
“The industry has achieved an impressive 30% sugar reduction to 32 teaspoons per person per year or 127g for soft drinks in Australia. This is the result of reformulation, marketing and supply from low-calorie to no-calorie beverages.
“Since 2015, sales of low-sugar or sugar-free drinks have exceeded those of regular sugary drinks. Bottled and packaged water sales are also larger than sugary soft drinks,”said Parker.
In addition to the pledge, the ABCL ratified the Health Star Rating (HSR) system in 2021 and encourages its implementation among members.
Members also commit to executing responsible marketing tactics and advertising limits through the ABCL. Responsible Commitment to Marketing and Advertising and the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Food and Beverage Advertising Code.
“We would wonder what the government would get by implementing (the pricing policy in the obesity plan). It is an imperfect public health policy even before it is implemented,”said Parker.
To overcome this problem, he encourages beverage companies in Australia to continue to offer consumers a wide range of choice. This decision can be made by offering the usual low calorie drinks at variations in package size.
“Beverage companies in Australia are world class when it comes to meeting consumer demands. Continuing to offer a wide range of choices, for example depending on the size of the drink, the size of the packaging, whether it is low calorie, normal calories or sugar free, less sugar”,he said.
Overview of Obesity in Oz
The NOPS is a decade-long framework, prepared over three years and the result of consultations with over 2,750 Australians and organisations.
The framework aims to prevent and reduce obesity through strategies such as implementing systemic changes and prevention strategies to improve environments, equipping the health system with response procedures, and encouraging more healthy weight discussions in society.
By 2030, it aims to reduce overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 2 to 17 by at least 5% by 2030.
Implementation will be guided by four principles: creating equity, addressing weight-related stigma and discrimination, addressing the broader determinants of health and sustainability, and empowering people.