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Why Friends of the Earth supports the call for a sugary drinks tax

Friends of the Earth has joined more than 60 other organisations to support Sustain’s new report calling for a sugary drinks tax. The report, covered in the Guardian and Telegraph, argues that a 20p per litre sugary drinks duty could be used to create a Children’s Future Fund that would invest in programmes to promote children’s health and the health of the environments they grow up in.

Obesity is a sign of a broken food system, and sugary drinks are one part of the problem. More fast foods, snacks and soft drinks are consumed in the UK than anywhere else in Europe, and fruit and vegetable consumption is well below daily recommended levels. Meanwhile, the production of sugary drinks is extremely energy and water intensive, huge sugar plantations, for example in Brazil and India, are damaging to ecosystems and a drain on increasingly scarce resources like water, and plastic bottles and cans contribute to unnecessary levels of refuse.

Healthy and sustainable diets are vital for healthy environments in this country and abroad. A tax on sugary drinks is just part of the revaluation of our diets that we need to make if we’re to move towards healthier and more sustainable food choices.

Ground-breaking research for WWF shows that by eating less meat and processed foods – high in salt and sugar – and more vegetables, fruits and carbohydrates instead, we can reduce the impact of food production on the planet. And it would make us healthier too. The government estimates that 70,000 deaths could be prevented in the UK each year if the nation met its recommended dietary guidelines – that means eating more fruit and veg, and less salt, saturated fat and sugar.

It can be tough talking about taxes in the current economic climate. But the evidence presented by Sustain is overwhelming. The might of the junk food industry’s staggering promotional budgets is intimidating. For every £1 that the UK government spends on promoting healthy eating, the food industry spends an estimated £100 on advertising to promote processed food, soft drinks and chain restaurants.

However, the revenue raised by taxing sugary drinks could counter this imbalance and support positive food outcomes. A Children’s Future Fund could invest in programmes offering free and sustainably produced fruit and vegetable snacks in schools, and installing fresh drinking water fountains to reduce waste associated with packaged drinks.

We join the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the Royal Society for Public Health, Compassion in World Farming, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the National Heart Forum, the World Cancer Research Fund and many others to back this small but very significant step towards rebalancing our food system.


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