Drinks manufacturer says extend health tax

A leading beverage manufacturer is advising Government to expand the list of unhealthy foods subjected to higher taxes as a means of reducing consumption of such foods.

Commercial Manager of SMJ Beverages Samuel Skinner today said it was not good enough that the Freundel Stuart administration imposed a ten per cent tax on sweetened drinks only, while other foods such as chocolates and potato chips escaped similar taxes.

“I am not aware of the discussions that were held before the tax was implemented, but I believe that if we really want to get the healthy lifestyle message across, the tax should be extended to cover other products like chocolate, potato chips and other foods high in sugar and salt,” Skinner told the launch of a new venture between his company and the Food Court at the Sheraton Centre Mall at Sargeants Village, Christ Church.

Based on a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund, Government in August 2015 imposed a ten per cent tax on sweetened beverages to raise in excess of $10 million in the first year and to reduce consumption of sweetened beverages.

However, Minister of Health John Boyce reported last November that the levy was not having the desired impact, as Bajans were still drinking large quantities of their preferred sugary beverages.

After a recent survey by the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC) found that soft drinks and some juices manufactured here carried alarmingly high levels of refined sugar, Richard Cozier, the former managing director and chief executive officer of beverage manufacturer Banks Holdings Limited (BHL) had said Barbadians were the ones rejecting drinks with less sugar and opting instead for the sweeter stuff.

Therefore, Cozier said while BHL was not averse to providing soft drinks with less sugar, the company was simple giving Barbadians what they wanted.

Still, there have been calls for the authorities to raise the tax even higher, with medical doctor Sir Henry Fraser recommending that the levy should rise to 30 per cent.

However, consumer advocate Malcolm Gibbs-Taitt has suggested that legislation, not taxation, was the way to go, telling Barbados TODAY earlier this year if Government were serious about reducing the sugar content in sweetened drinks it would enact the necessary legislation to ensure it happens.

Today, Skinner said his company had already begun to reduce the sugar content in its drinks.

“We have started with Chubby, which now has 25 per cent less sugar; we have introduced Fruta 50, or Fruta Light, with 50 per cent less sugar, and shortly our Fruta and Kool Kids portfolio will be enhanced with 100 per cent juice products,” the SMJ spokesman said.

The partnership with Sheraton Centre is a three-year arrangement, which Skinner said will “provide incentives for both concessionaires and consumers”.

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