Parliament hears pros and cons of a sugar tax in SA

The consumption of sugary and fizzy drinks has steadily fallen in the United States for the last 11 years. ©rez-art/
The consumption of sugary and fizzy drinks has steadily fallen in the United States for the last 11 years. ©rez-art/

South Africans drink almost three times more sugary drinks than the global average‚ Parliament heard on Tuesday as MPs debated the imposition of a tax on sugar sweetened beverages.

Professor Tolu Oni‚ from UCT’s School of Public Health‚ told the joint meeting of Parliament’s health and finance committees that statistics showed the global average of Coca-Cola products consumed per person per year was 89. In South Africa in 2010‚ this number was 254. It had risen considerably since 1997‚ when this number was 175.

South Africa had the second highest consumption of sugar sweetened beverages among children aged nine to 10 in the world‚ second only to the United States‚ she said.

Dr Sundeep Ruder‚ representing the Society for Endocrinology‚ Metabolism and Diabetes‚ said that South Africa was the most obese nation in Sub-Saharan Africa. He said 70% of women and 40% of men were either obese or overweight.

 One in four girls and one in five boys between the ages of two and 14 were also either obese or overweight.

Ruder said that because these beverages entered the bloodstream quickly‚ they stressed the pancreas. They also left the body unsatisfied and people ended up eating more‚ contributing to weight gain.

He said consuming one sugar sweetened beverage a day increased a person’s risk of developing type two diabetes by 26%.

The Department of Health’s Dr Malcolm Freeman said South Africans’ poor diets were a burden on the state which is struggling with high and rising rates of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

And while almost all presenters admitted that a tax would not solve the problem by itself‚ Parliament heard that a tax was the most cost effective way to start addressing the problem.

Fiscal measures like a sugar tax cost only 20 cents per head‚ while other interventions like school interventions cost R11.10 per head and physician counselling R11.80 per head. Mass media campaigns cost around R7.50 per head and food labeling interventions around R2.50 per head.

BevSA‚ which represents drinks manufacturers like Coca Cola‚ Red Bull and Tiger Brands‚ however said that the tax would cause serious problems for the industry.

BevSA’s Mapule Ncanywa told the committees that together their industry created 300‚000 jobs and contributed billions in annual taxes. She said the tax could equate to a 25% loss in jobs.

Thomas Funke of the SA Cane Growers’ Association told Parliament that the tax would impact small scale farmers hard‚ especially given the current stress of the drought.

Grattan Kirk for Tiger Brands said their biggest concern was the calculation of the tax by the amount of grams of sugar contained per litre of beverage. He said Tiger Brands‚ which made concentrated juices and squashes‚ would be severely impacted by this as their product was sold as a concentrate and diluted by the buyer.

Dr Frank Chaloupka of the University of Illinois however said in Mexico‚ where a similar tax had been introduced‚ there had been no impact on jobs.

He however said there had been a 6% decline in drinking of sugary beverages in the first year of implementation in 2014 and a total decrease of about 11% by 2016.

He said a 10% reduction in South Africa would mean 189‚000 less people developing diabetes and could prevent 18 900 premature deaths.

Many MPs however said they believed that there needed to be regulations on the amount of sugar in beverages rather than a tax as this was likely to benefit the public.

ANC MP Dr Makhosi Khoza said regulating the sugar in drinks could be a better tool. “We need to put our people first.”

The DA’s Wilmot James said if the tax was “simply to raise revenue” this would be “immoral” while MP Alf Lees questioned whether a full economic impact assessment had been conducted.

The Treasury has said that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will release more details of the planned tax in his budget speech next month.


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