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UK sugar tax comes into force

April 6, 2018

The tax has been put in place to help curb obesity levels, as one in three children leaves primary school overweight. The Treasury says recipe alterations have already cut out 45 million kilograms of sugar per year.

A child drinks a soft drink
Image: Colourbox/Monkey Business Images

Brits will be paying higher prices for some soft drinks after the country's sugar tax on the sweet beverages came into effect on Friday.

Announced in March 2016, the tax has already seen more than 50 percent of manufacturers modify their products to ensure they are below the levy's sugar limit, Britain's Treasury said.

Read more: Poison candy: Are chocolates, sweets and sugary snacks ever healthy?

"Our teenagers consume nearly a bathtub of sugary drinks each year on average, fueling a worrying obesity trend in this country," Public Health Minister Steve Brine said.

"The soft drinks industry levy is ground-breaking policy that will help to reduce sugar intake, whilst funding sports programs and nutritious breakfast clubs for children," Brine added.

Coke and Pepsi to stay the same

Companies will pay 24 pence (27 euro cents, 33 US cents) per liter of drink if it contains 8 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters and 18 pence per liter of drink if it contains between 5–8 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters.

Because of manufacturers' efforts to reformulate their product, the Treasury now expects the levy to raise only about £240 million (€275.5 million, $338 million) in its first year, less than half the previous estimate of £520 million.

Read more: Too sweet and too fatty: What's really hidden in the Easter nest?

Soft drink producers such as Coca-Cola, Britvic and Lucozade Ribena Suntory have amended their recipes, but with more than 10 grams of sugar per 100 milliliters, Coca-Cola Classic — the nation's top-selling branded soft drink — and Pepsi are both subject to the tax.

Retailers Tesco, Asda and Morrisons have also modified their own-brand soft drinks to be below the levy's threshold.

Brine said that while the progress made so far on the UK's obesity plan is promising, "with one in three children still leaving primary school overweight or obese, we have not ruled out doing more in future."

Germany against sugar tax

In Germany, Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner on Wednesday dismissed the idea of imposing a similar sugar tax in Germany to tackle the country's obesity problem.

The proposal came from Foodwatch, a Berlin-based group that exposes food-industry practices that are not in the interests of consumers.

"It may be that this results in lower sugar content in some products, but that does not automatically apply to the overall calorie content," Kloeckner said.

Britain's former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who first revealed the tax policy during his time in office, said he believes milk drinks with a high sugar content could be targeted next.

Read more: Myths and facts about diabetes

"I suspect the sugar tax will start to be extended to things like milk products, which I was nervous of going into in the first instance because I wanted to establish the case for a sugar tax," he told BBC television program Newsnight.

The UK's soft drink sugar tax follows in the footsteps of countries including France, Norway and Mexico.

Should Germany tax sugar?

law/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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