By: Amy Wiggins

The Australian Beverages Council this week announced its members had committed to reduce sugar across the industry by 20 per cent on average by 2025.

It did not mean the amount of sugar in every product would be reduced, but that the amount of sugar across all drinks sold should be lower.

An independent auditor would be appointed and the review would be based on annual sales weighted volume, the Australian Beverages Council said.

New Zealand Beverage Council spokesman Stephen Jones said there were no similar plans underway in New Zealand, but it was something the council would be talking to its members about.

“I think it’s a fantastic initiative by the Australians,” he said.

“We’re committed to playing our part in reducing obesity. We’re very open to having local discussions with our members over the coming weeks.”

More than 1.3 million Kiwis are obese, making New Zealand the third-fattest country in the OECD.

Jones said he believed the move would make a difference.

“Whenever you provide consumers with more choice and more options around drinking low sugar options it will certainly have an impact.”

But he was quick to point out the beverage industry was not the only issue when it came to rising obesity levels.

“Full-sugar soft drink consumption in New Zealand has been falling over the last decade, but as a country we’re still getting fatter.”

A Coca-Cola New Zealand spokeswoman said the company would be open to discussing industry-wide goals but already had its own target of reducing sugar across its range by 10 per cent by 2020.

“Coca-Cola NZ has already made significant changes within our product portfolio, packaging and marketing communication to help Kiwis consume less sugar from our beverages.”

The company had a policy limiting the sugar content of new products to 8g per 100mls, was increasing its range of drinks which were 300ml or less, reducing sugar in current products, avoiding targeting children under 14 in advertising and launching new products with low or no sugar.

Since 2015 the company had been slowly reducing the amount of sugar in Sparkling Duet Raspberry, Fanta Raspberry, Powerade ION4, Fanta Grape and Kerry Fruity Drink. Seven reformulations of product recipes were planned for this year.

Health Minister Dr David Clark agreed sugar levels needed to be reduced and had met with the industry to set out a clear expectation they needed to work with the Government on the issue.

“We want to give the industry the chance to step up and make positive change, rather than immediately jump to regulate,” he said.

Fighting Sugar in Soft Drinks (FIZZ) founder Dr Gerhard Sundborn was also supportive of the move across the Tasman and said he would welcome its introduction here.

“I think it’s a good thing. Any way to get sugar out of consumption is good,” he said.

“It shows the beverage industry knows that sugar is a real issue. They are acknowledging the harm of sugar.”

While it was a step in the right direction, Sundborn did sound a warning.

He said self-regulation was never done as well as it could be so he would be watching how it was rolled out.

Auckland University Professor of Population Nutrition and Global Health Boyd Swinburn was skeptical of the Australian target.

“The potential for smoke, mirrors, charades and delays is enormous when the industry sets its own exam and then marks it,” he said.

He said Clark’s call for the New Zealand industry to make commitments to reduce sugar would only have teeth if the Government set the goals and then evaluated the actions and outcomes.

Heart Foundation food and nutrition manager Dave Monro said the organisation had worked with the food industry to create salt reduction targets and was exploring the possibility of sugar reduction targets for beverages.

“With beverages, food reformulation is only a small part of the equation, reduced portion size, tighter advertising rules and removal of sugary drinks from schools are other key initiatives which need strong focus,” he said.

Source: NZ Herald

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