Political parties were grilled about their stance on a sugar tax at a conference run yesterday by advocacy group Fighting Sugary in Soft Drinks (FIZZ), the New Zealand Herald reports. At the one day conference the New Zealand soft drink manufacturing body also unveiled its pledge for all members to only sell bottled water to primary and intermediate schools.
The FIZZ Symposium, called Taxing Sugary Drinks: An Election Issue, included national and international speakers explaining the effects of sugar and what was being done around the world to combat it. Radio New Zealand reported that the conference had a last minute venue change From Auckland City Hospital following complaints that government-funded buildings should not be used to lobby on an election campaign issue.
The day ended with a political panel discussion on the issue chaired by Mark Sainsbury.
New Zealand First's Ria Bond said the party did not support a tax on sugary drinks but were monitoring evidence from trials in other countries, including Mexico, and were open to reviewing their stance if evidence proved it worked.
Maori Party representative Wetex Kang said the party supported the sugary drinks tax. Kang said it was something he was passionate about and would push for within the party.
Mika Haka said The Opportunities Party absolutely wanted a sugar tax. "And why stop there. We want a junk food tax. We want to tax those saturated fats, those salts, those sugars, based on grams, and that money going back to healthier foods, water fountains and heaven knows what else we need in this country so people can live."
Labour's Jenny Salesa said the party did not have a policy to tax sugar right now but, if elected, would set reduction targets for added sugars in processed foods over a three year period. "Our belief is we should look at sugar in food as well as drinks."
Green Party health spokesperson Julia-Anne Genter said they fully supported a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages and had been advocating for it.
"We have plenty of evidence that over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages are one of the largest drivers of obesity and we know that excise taxes work to reduce consumption when combined with a whole host of other policies around availability, advertising and other public health mechanisms."
No National representative took up the offer to be part of the panel discussion. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman had prior parliamentary commitments in Wellington and the timing of the event meant no suitable fill-ins were available, a spokeswoman said.
In a statement, Coleman told the Herald the party was not actively considering a sugar tax but were keeping a watching brief on trials around the world.
Leading up to the symposium the New Zealand Beverage Council announced it's pledge for members to extend and widen the 2006 voluntary schools' agreement (VSA) with the health and education ministries to include all members.
The New Zealand Beverage Council said there are more than 75 New Zealand companies involved in manufacturing and importing soft drinks, fruit juice, bottled water, sports and energy drinks and flavoured milk. It says the council's members represent over 95% of all juice and beverages sold at a retail level in New Zealand.
The new pledge is for New Zealand Beverage Council members to "further commit to":
ONLY selling bottled water to primary and intermediate schools in New Zealand*
NOT directly sell sugar-sweetened soft drinks nor any energy drinks to secondary schools in New Zealand
WORK with third party wholesalers to encourage them to adhere to the industry commitment when selling beverages to New Zealand schools
WORK with Ministries of Education and Health to encourage primary and intermediate schools to work within the NZBC commitment
What New Zealand schools sell
4% sell energy drinks
9% sell sugary fizzy drinks
12% sell sugar-free fizzy drinks
35% sell bottled water
38% sell flavoured milk
39% sell fruit juice