Right-wing thinktank New Zealand Initiative is concerned that sugar tax advocates are misleading the public by pretending to punish manufacturers rather than consumers.

Responding to renewed calls for a sugar tax, policy analyst Jenesa Jeram says there are still no grounds for introducing such a tax in New Zealand.

Jeram’s claims come after new research was released by the University of Waikato which found New Zealand drinks had the highest sugar levels out of non-alcoholic beverages in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK.

Lead researcher Dr Lynne Chepulis blamed a lack of regulation in the food and beverage industry for the high sugar levels. She said that although New Zealand has the third highest obesity rate in the OECD there is still reluctance to the idea of introducing a sugar tax.

Jeram says that trying to regulate the sugar content of sugary drinks is likely to have unintended consequences.

In the United Kingdom, such product reformulations have been deeply unpopular. A recent announcement that the Scottish favourite Irn Bru will be reducing its sugar content has seen customers stockpiling their beloved beverage. A reformulation of Lucozade in the UK has also seen sales plummet.

“Trying to pitch a sugar tax as a tax on manufacturers is disingenuous. What we are going to end up with is either a bunch of inferior products on the market that consumers do not want, or sugary drinks will continue to be available at a higher cost to consumers.”

“The trend for introducing sugar taxes overseas is growing faster than the evidence base that the tax will reduce obesity. The evidence that is coming in is that manufacturers who reformulate their products face the risk of consumer backlash. Rather than jumping on the bandwagon, New Zealand should be waiting to see whether the sugar taxes overseas are actually improving health outcomes.”

“Kiwis might not understand the appeal of Irn Bru in Scotland, but we sure know what it’s like when our favourite brands try and force change upon us. Let’s not pretend for a second that this is a change consumers want. The beverage market is already flowing with low sugar or zero sugar alternatives for those who want them.”

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