Coke promises, MPs chastise

Coke promises, MPs chastiseSugary drinks are a major cause of non-communicable diseases. (File Photo)

Coca Cola promises to promote diet and zero drinks while MPs lash industry representatives, as Parlimant continues to wrestle with the sugary drinks tax

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Sugary drinks are one of the main drivers of diabetes and other NCDs.

Coca Cola Beverages SA plans to make its diet and sugar-free drinks R1 cheaper than its full sugar drinks and cut the sugar in Fanta and Sprite by 20% – but it rejects taxing the sugar content of its drinks.

This is according to Velaphi Ratshefola, Coke’s managing director, addressing yesterday’s parliamentary hearings on the sugary drinks tax.

However, ANC MP Thandi Tobias lashed out at sugary beverage producers, saying they did not know what people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) go through. Sugary drinks are one of the key drivers of obesity and diabetes.

“People queue from 3am to get their medication. None of the producers of sugary beverages stand in these queues,” said Tobias, who is a diabetic.

A proposed tax on sugary drinks – around 11% on a can of Coke – has been included in the Monetary and Rate Bill currently being considered by parliament’s standing committee on finance. However, the committee seems unable to decide on the way forward after its fourth public hearing.

MPs struggling

Memebers of Parliament (MPs) are struggling to balance the health costs of obesity and related NCDs with industry assertions that the tax will cause job losses in the beverage, retail and sugar-producing sectors.

Yunus Carrim, the chair of the finance committee, said government could introduce the tax conditionally for 24 months and monitor whether it was effective in reducing obesity.

However, representatives from the sugar industry and the Beverage Association of SA objected, saying that Parliament should rather wait for the negotiations on the sugary drinks tax to be concluded at Nedlac.

But ANC MP Derek Hanekom said that the need to reduce South Africans’ sugar consumption was a “no brainer”, that a tax had been shown to be an effective way of doing so and that sugary drinks are “the worst” culprits causing obesity.

“We have to start somewhere. A tax is good, but at what level? If it is too low, it might not make an impact. But what will the consequences be and what measures can we introduce to mitigate against the effects on the economy and jobs?” said Hanekom.

Meanwhile, ANC MP Fish Mahlalela said the beverage industry’s focus on job losses was “one-sided”.

“People with NCDs get sick, it affects productivity and some lose their jobs. This has a huge impact on the economy. We need a holistic solution,” said Mahlalela.

The national Department of Health’s Chief Director of NCDs, Melvyn Freeman, told the hearing that moderately obese patients cost the health department 11% more, while severely obese people cost 23% more.

“The health system will collapse if we don’t address obesity,” said Freeman.

Despite Carrim chastising presenters for repeating evidence that had been heard before, he has scheduled yet another hearing on the tax for next week. – Health-e News Service.