Tory MP calls for new tax on sugar and salt as UK 'storing up obesity'

A former Conservative Health Minister is disappointed in the Government for the absence of a sugar and salt tax

Published

A former Conservative Health Minister has said the Government has a "right" and a "responsibility" to introduce a salt and sugar tax, following a new food strategy by the Conservatives.

Steve Brine told the Commons he is a "wee bit disappointed" about the absence of a sugar and salt tax in the Government's new food strategy, stating the country is "storing up obesity, type 2 diabetes and stroke" for the future.

The National Food Strategy proposed a series of recommendations to the Government in 2021, including a tax on sugar and salt.

Mr Brine oversaw the introduction of the sugary drinks levy during his time as public health minister, adding how as a result of it, the industry "reformulated their products" without pushing the costs up for the consumers.

Steve Brine emphasised his disappointment following the exclusion a sugar and salt tax in the governments food strategy
Steve Brine emphasised his disappointment following the exclusion a sugar and salt tax in the governments food strategy

He added how it was the Conservative Government's "right" and "responsibility" not to "kick this into the long grass".

Environment Secretary George Eustice stated how the soft drinks levy, which came into force in 2018, was a great success due to the fact that taking sugar out of soft drinks is “relatively easy” because “it’s only a sweetener”.

The exchange between Mr Brine and the Environment Secretary followed a statement from Mr Eustice in the Commons on the Government food strategy, which Labour Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon later described as “vague” and “farcical”.

The debate saw Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale calling for the temporary ban of the development of houses on key farmland, enabling Britain to grow more of its own food.

Mr Brine said: “The secretary of state will know that I put together a prevention green paper in the Department of Health and building on the sugar tax, which led to the sensible reformulation of soft drinks, it didn’t push up cost (for) the consumer because the industry reformulated their products.

“That document, agreed cross-government I have to say, had proposals to extend that winning formula to other products, high in fat, salt and sugar.

Mr Brine commented on the increasing rates of type 2 diabetics in the UK
Mr Brine commented on the increasing rates of type 2 diabetics in the UK

“Now, we can kick this into the long grass and many will be pleased that we have done, but we are storing up obesity, type 2 diabetes and stroke, we are increasingly seeing that in younger people, for the future.

“So, surely as a publicly-funded health system, we have a right and I would argue a responsibility to not kick this into the long grass.”

Mr Eustice replied: “I can assure him that we are not kicking it into the long grass. The soft drinks levy was indeed a tremendous success, but it was a success because it was relatively easy to take sugar out of soft drinks because it’s only a sweetener, and you can drive reformulation quite simply.”

He added: “But what we are taking forward later this year, are new point of sale restrictions on foods that are high in salt, fat, or sugar. And I can tell my honourable friend that that is already driving reformulation and changes in retail and supply chains.”

Earlier, Mr McMahon told the Commons: “Here we are, not only six months late on from (the secretary of state’s) own deadline, but with just a statement of vague intentions from the Government.

“No concrete proposals and absolutely nothing to face the major issues facing this country.

“Dimbleby’s review consisted of almost 300 pages. Yet the secretary of state has responded to barely 10 percent of that. So, to call this is a food strategy is farcical and, frankly, is an insult to all those who gave time to contribute to that review.”

Mr Eustice retaliated, defending the level of detail in the food strategy, saying that it does deal with the areas criticised by Labour.

He said: “If he wanted more detail, he could have read the full report.

“But it’s clear from the list of issues he raised that maybe he didn’t read the report. Because I simply cannot accept any of the criticisms that he made.”