‘Sugar tax may hit businesses and jobs’

  • Bruce Barrit hits out at proposed sugar tax (Photo by Akil Simmons)

A proposed sugar tax should not concentrate on sodas, the head of an island soft drinks distributor said yesterday.

Bruce Barritt, general manager of John Barritt & Son warned that a fresh tax on soft drinks could impact business and jobs.

He said: “If the Government’s intention is to tax sugar, we hope that there will be scrutiny of all food categories that contain sugar as opposed to singling out beverages which already have significant taxes applied to them.”

Mr Barritt added that any new costs to the company from a tax would need to be covered.

He said: “This could take the form of increased prices, reduced marketing support and changes in our staffing and community support programmes.”

Mr Barritt was speaking after the Throne Speech last week said the Government would start consultation on a sugar tax on “certain foods and beverages”.

The speech, the Government’s blueprint for the new session of Parliament, added: “While unhealthy foods are often appealing due to their lower prices, the cost of treatment is significantly higher than the cost of prevention.”

Mr Barritt said sweetened, flavoured and carbonated soft drinks were already hit with 35 per cent duty on their invoice cost.

He added that Barritts had stopped bottling and canning operations on the island six years ago.

Mr Barritt said: “There is no large-scale local production of soft drinks any more.

“So what are commonly referred to as ‘sodas’ are all imported and subject to this 35 per cent tax.”

Mr Barritt said that he had yet to see details of any proposed new tax.

But he added: “Because pre-packaged beverages are an easy product to track, they will likely be top of the taxman’s list.”

Mr Barritt said he hoped the firm would be invited to take part in consultations on the proposed tax.

He added he was unsure how other drinks, including juices with naturally occurring sugars and diet soft drinks sweetened without the use of sugar, would be treated under a new tax.

The Government’s election platform explained that revenue from a sugar tax would be put towards “health education and early intervention”.

Mr Barritt said that revenue collected should be monitored so that the effectiveness of the tax could be properly evaluated.

He added: “If the intent of the sugar tax is to help the Bermudian population live longer, healthier lives, then the revenues collected should be earmarked for programmes that fit these criteria.”

Mr Barritt said the company endorsed the idea of people living healthier lifestyles and added that it offered a number of low and no-calorie beverage options for consumers.Last night, a ministry spokeswoman said: “The Ministry of Health is excited to be leading on this significant health initiative, which has already begun to show evidence of effectiveness in other countries that have implemented it.”

The spokeswoman said such initiatives were “primarily aimed at reducing sugar consumption to improve health status and combat life-threatening and expensive chronic, non-communicable diseases”.

“There are successful models in the US and the UK to implement a sugar tax, and Bermuda will look to the established international experience to develop proposals that suit local needs, and to undertake consultation in the upcoming year,” the spokeswoman said.

“In the meantime, other initiatives to combat chronic conditions will also be progressed to ensure healthy choices are the easier choices for everyone in Bermuda.”