When the UK Government's decision to tax sugary drinks was announced in March as part of the annual Budget, it was greeted by many as a positive move. Lobby groups welcomed the levy of up to 24p on sugary drinks and long-time advocate of the tax Jamie Oliver did a celebratory dance outside Westminster.
Of course, the tax wasn't popular with everyone. Even when the plans were first announced, industry body the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) opposed the levy, calling it a piece of "political theatre" that would come at the cost of innovation and jobs in food manufacturing, without actually improving the nation's health.
Now, the FDF is citing Britain's exit from the European Union as another reason for the tax not to come into effect.
In a speech made last week about the impact of Brexit on the food and drink industry, FDF director general Ian Wright called for the sugar levy to be put on hold to help steady the industry as it navigates the uncertain future.
Wright said that the implementation of the sugar tax, which is due to come into effect in 2018, would "add unwelcome additional burden on hard-pressed industry at a moment of crisis" and should "now be put on hold."
He added that should the tax come into place, civil servants would end up working on implementing it, rather than focusing on trade post-Brexit: "It seems to me inconceivable that the small number of civil servants with expertise in excise duties within HMRC would, at this time, be working on the sugar levy and not on the replacement for the customs union."
Despite numerous reports from Public Health England and the Commons' Health Committee stating that a tax on sugary drinks and a review into how they are marketed would lower sugar consumption, the FDF continues to argue that it will make no difference to public health. Wright also stated in his speech: "We continue to oppose the sugar levy which is not evidence-based and will not be in the least bit effective."
It must be noted, however, that the FDF represents brands such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Tango—all of whom will be hit hard by the proposed tax. According to early analysis by the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, it could add 18p per litre to drinks with total sugar content about 5 grams per 100 millilitres and 24p per litre for drinks with more than 8 grams per 100 millilitre.
When MUNCHIES reached out to the FDF, no one was available for comment.
In response to these calls to halt the sugar levy, Jennifer Rosborough, a nutritionist at the campaign group Action on Sugar, told MUNCHIES that what we eat is now "the biggest cause of death and ill health in the UK."
Rosborough added: "If the sugar tax is scrapped along with other policies to tackle childhood obesity, both the Government and food and drink industry will be to blame for bankrupting the NHS."
There's no denying that Britain—and indeed most of the world—has a (literally) massive obesity problem. That's one thing that even Brexit isn't going to change.