Teaspoons are going to be the new currency in food and drink…or at least that is one of the proposals in the first draft of the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill, which has been recently published.

The context for the introduction of the bill is the push by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to encourage countries to start taxing sugary drinks as a matter of course.  The draft bill requires the Secretary of State to do three things: these are (1) to set targets for sugar content in food and drink, (2) add teaspoon representations for food and drink labelling and (3) impose standards in food and drink advertising.

The purpose of the sugar content target is to improve public health through an overall reduction in the amount of sugar consumed. The bill contemplates the Secretary of State publishing data from WHO and compares these on a regular basis against sugar consumed in the UK.

The definition of “sugar” is taken from the Food Labelling Regulations 1996.  This approach, consistent with existing food labelling legislation, is helpful.  Sugar would be represented on the label at the rate one teaspoon for every 4g of sugar.  So, a product with 12g of sugar would show three teaspoons.

The assumption is that unfavourable comparisons between WHO standards and UK data will change our consumption habits.  HM Treasury also has a part to play in encouraging change.  Consultations on the Soft Drinks Industry Levy took place over late summer 2016 and have now closed.   It is the government’s intention to introduce the levy in April 2018.

The levy that the UK Government has unveiled is aimed directly at producers and importers, not consumers, because the government believes that producers need to act, rather than just passing higher prices onto consumers. This kind of approach has been tried in Hungary and researchers there found that companies did act to remove unhealthy ingredients.

The bill is welcome in its brevity and ambition regarding public health.  It will benefit not just HM Treasury but also (it is intended) the NHS.  So far as individual businesses are concerned, if the impact shown in Hungary is to be repeated here, R&D budgets should be revisited, together with valuable reliefs under the R&D tax credit scheme.

Gavin Poole is a partner in the corporate team at Stephens Scown. If you have any queries then please do contact Gavin on 01872 265100, or by email solicitors@stephens-scown.co.uk.