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Association calls on govt to probe causes of obesity

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By Thakira Desai

This week, the proposed sugar tax is set to be tabled before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance, a matter that has left the public divided. A sugar tax or soft-drink tax is designed to reduce consumption of drinks with added sugar. Drinks covered under a sugar tax often include, carbonated drinks and energy drinks. In his 2016 Budget, finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced plans to introduce a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, which was set to be introduce on April 1, 2017, this in a bid to “help reduce excessive sugar intake”.

If approved, the implementation of the sugar tax might impact consumer behaviour and job creation.
In response to the sugar tax proposal, the South African Sugar Association is calling on Government to adequately assess the impact the tax may have, as well as investigate the exact causes of obesity within the country.

According to the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, South Africa has the “highest overweight and obesity rate in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“With up to 70% of women and a third of men being classified as overweight or obese [and] a staggering 40% of women in our country are obese, which means they have a body mass index greater than 30 kg/m2. However, this is no longer just an adult problem, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys between the ages of 2 – 14 years are overweight or obese.”

VOC’s Breakfast Beat spoke to South African Sugar Association’s external affairs director, Portia Mpofu who explained that the sugar tax relates to a proposal by the National Treasury proposing a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, but not on the actual product.

“It’s is not on the actual product, but because our biggest clients buy sugar from us it will have a negative impact on the whole value chain,” she noted.

With regards to the agriculture sector, she confirmed that the already struggling sugar industry will be severely impacted if the proposal is to be accepted and subsequently passed.

As with numerous parts of the agricultural sector, Mpofu said that given the current drought experienced within South Africa, production in the sugar industry has decreased by up to 53 per cent in some areas and there have been closures of various mills due to the low supply.

“In itself, it will take several years for the industry to recover from the drought. [And] compounding that difficult situation you have the imminent tax.”

Mpofu asserts that the taxation of the sugar industry will affect the small-scale growers, who are already finding themselves “on their knees” due to the drought.

“KZN and Mpumalanga is where sugar cane is grown, because of the climatic conditions, and it’s in the deep rural areas where, unfortunately, these poor people do not have alternatives.”

She says that while the sugar industry remains concerned about the level of obesity within the country, two years before the tax proposal was announced, the sector was in discussion with the Department of Health as a means to seek ways to improve the overall health of citizens.

Mpofu says that the sugar industry has, in particular within the KZN region, been educating communities, nurses, and medical doctors on the users of sugar, whilst advocating a healthy and balanced diet.

“We believe that isolating one carbohydrate does not help anyone. [So] all that we’ve we are saying to the department is ‘please let us do a complete dietary study, so that we know what is making south African’s fat is.”
Secondly, the association has requested that the department do a socioeconomic study to determine the impact that a sugar tax may have within the sugar sector.

“Let’s do things properly; if it means delaying the implementation of the tax, so be it. But let’s all come together and find out what is it that we are all eating and how the people will be impacted,” Mpofu continued. VOC

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