'Kiwis don't want sugar tax'

A majority of Kiwis do not want further government regulation of food or drinks, including a tax for sugar, a survey by Southern Cross Health Society has found.

The survey, of 2000 people, showed that just 27% agreed there should be further government regulation of food and just 34% for more regulation of drinks.

This was despite 63% of respondents believing they should consume less sugar and 73% believing it is a contributing factor to the country’s obesity problems.

The survey also found that just 39% agree that sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks should be taxed; 34% agree that high sugar foods should be taxed; 26% agree that high fat foods should be taxed; just over half believe that unhealthy foods and drinks should not be taxed

Southern Cross quoted Nutrition Foundation dietician Sarah Hanrahan saying that while we need to decrease our sugar intake, eliminating all sugar is unnecessary and the total health benefits of food need to be considered. The survey results can be accessed here.

In response to the findings, Katherine Rich told Fairfax Media:

"It's an encouraging trend that more New Zealanders understand the importance of balancing the amount they eat with physical activity for a healthier lifestyle. 

"The Food & Grocery Council believes moderation is the key to the issue. It's all about balancing energy in with energy out.

"There is no need to eliminate sugar or other nutrients from our diets, as some might advocate, rather we should all consider the benefits of a balanced overall diet.‚Äč

"We strongly endorse the sensible and common sense comments made by nutritionist Sarah Hanrahan of the NZ Nutrition Foundation.”

Stuff.co.nz and many of Fairfax’s provincial newspapers published FGC’s response in a story headed “Kiwis don’t want sugar tax”.

On 17 January, the Manawatu Standard published an editorial on the issue in which it misrepresented FGC’s position by saying “As demonstrated by the Food and Grocery Council, there isn’t even agreement that the war on obesity requires a battle.”

FGC submitted a letter of clarification and this was published on 21 January.

This is Katherine Rich’s letter:

Moderation urged

Your January 17 editorial misrepresents the position of the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council. Obesity needs to be tackled, and to do that New Zealanders need to change their diets. The council is actively involved in helping make that happen. We have been publicly advocating moderation in food intake – particularly foods high in sugar – for years. Our member companies, which distribute or manufacture the vast bulk of the foods on supermarket shelves, devote huge amounts of time and money to reformulating products to remove sugar and fat and salt, and providing lo-cal and zero-sugar alternatives. In some products this has resulted in hundreds of tonnes of these ingredients being removed from the New Zealand diet each year. Just because, like many people, we don’t agree that a tax on sugar is the solution does not mean we do not recognise the problem. We simply believe that a tax that would increase the weekly grocery bill and most hurt those who can least afford it is not the answer.