7 questions for the minister of health on a proposed sugar tax for South Africa

The Beverages Association of South Africa (BevSA) has called on minister of health, Aaron Motsoaledi, to address outstanding issues regarding a proposed sugar sweetened beverages tax.

BevSA has warned that the proposed sugar tax will cost the local economy R14 billion, and could push the country into recession.

The Association has joined bottlers and other players in the local beverage industry in speaking out against the proposed tax, which would see as much as 20% being levied on sugar sweetened drinks.

According to the group, the proposed sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) tax could trigger between 62,000 to 72,000 job losses, and exacerbate the broader fiscal and societal costs associated with unemployment.

Read: Sugar tax will cost South Africa economy R14 billion – and push the country into recession

BevSA said that through voluntary industry-driven initiatives  – such as reformulation and smaller pack sizes – the beverage industry has reduced 53kj per litre.

“This proposed soft drink tax will cost you at least 20% more for soft drinks to remove a half teaspoon of sugar from our daily average intake of 12 638 kj,” it said.

The Association said that as an industry it is committed to be part of the solution to obesity. It called on the health minister to to answer several questions relating to obesity:

  • Where is the conclusive evidence to suggest that a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) alone will have a meaningful and long-term impact on obesity in South Africa?
  • Sugar from SSBs account for only 3% of South Africa’s total energy intake – why ignore the source of the other 97% of calories and justify a tax on this single product category?
  • Treasury has not yet conducted a socio-economic impact assessment study to weigh up the cost of the tax to the South African economy. The announcement of an SSB tax in advance of the outcomes of the study is premature – when will it be published?
  • There is a gap in comprehensive dietary and consumption data for the South African population on which to base any intervention decision – has a Total Dietary Study been initiated to address this gap?
  • Will the DoH support and fund a campaign to inform and educate the public as well as change behaviour?
  • There is no commitment from Treasury that revenue from this tax will go towards public health interventions – why is that so?
  • Above all, why has there been no consideration of alternatives to the tax and the government has not acknowledged significant voluntary industry initiatives that are already underway?

“BevSA supports the Department of Health’s efforts to reducing obesity and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). However, it believes that there are more effective solutions rather than a discriminatory tax on a single product category.

“The beverages industry also calls for a thorough investigation into evidence-based alternatives to the SSB tax. BevSA proposes a joint public-private partnership between industry, government and the scientific community to reduce obesity and other NCDs among South Africans,” the group said.

Finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced earlier this year that a sugar tax will be levied with effect from 1 April 2017.

More on sugar tax

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7 questions for the minister of health on a proposed sugar tax for South Africa