Sugary drinks smokescreen
THE BEVERAGE Association of SA (BevSA), in its article headlined “Sugar tax will do far more harm than good” (The Star, June 6), insults the intelligence of your readers.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure that a country with 67 000 deaths a year from diabetes, high blood pressure and cerebrovascular disease – all underpinned by a massive obesity epidemic – has to take action.
And tackling one of the worst dietary offenders – sugary drinks – is a smart place to start.
South Africans have a lot to gain by cutting down on drinks that have zero nutritive value and contain sugar in toxic concentrations.
For every person who dies from the diseases mentioned above, there are several more struggling to manage these conditions and disabled by severe complications including blindness, kidney failure, paralysis and the amputation of limbs.
Against this disturbing reality, the beverage Industry raises the spectre of massive job losses and the collapse of many small businesses if the planned tax on sugary drinks comes into force.
This would be very worrying if the claims were believable, but economists have picked gaping holes in them.
Neva Makgetla of Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies has argued that BevSA vastly overstates the jobs that depend on the production of sugary drinks.
If all other sectors made such exaggerated claims, she says, South Africa would have 34 million employed people rather than the actual 15.5 million.
She shows why BevSA’s figures on informal traders and their dependence on sugary drinks sales are also overstated.
BevSA never concedes that consumers will respond to the tax by shifting to cheaper, healthier tax-free beverages – as they did in Mexico – and that food chains and spaza shops alike will adjust their stocks and keep on trading.
Coca-Cola, however, is already preparing to live with the tax, its MD, Velaphi Ratshefola, revealed in Parliament this week.
It will sell sugar-free and light drinks for R1 less a can than the sugary type. Maybe you have noticed the new Stoney Light on market shelves?
While protesting that sugary drinks are not major drivers of obesity and continuing to talk up (inflated) job losses, the industry also says it is quite prepared to “reformulate” sugary drinks and bring in more sugar-free and light options.
Just don’t force us, they say, we’ll do it all ourselves.
Well, it doesn’t add up: why is sugar reduction an effective health measure when the industry does it voluntarily, but not when it is imposed by government fiscal policies?
Why does “self-regulation” not cause huge job losses while the tax-driven strategy supposedly does?
The truth is that the tax on sugary drinks will require the beverage industry to adjust its pricing structures.
The consumer, on the other hand, can avoid this tax by switching to healthier beverages.
If your readers believe it all boils down to profits, they are probably right.
And maybe they will reluctantly admit our overweight nation needs the government to nudge us towards healthier eating.
Effect of tax overstated, health benefits understated
Co-ordinator, Living Alliance Healthy