CANE growers have hit back at renewed calls for a sugar tax, saying their industry is being demonised by the irrational proposal.
The Australian Medical Association this week called for a tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks as a “matter of priority” as part of a suite of measures to tackle Australia’s “over-consumption” of sugar.
Canegrowers Chair Paul Schembri said the industry had been dealing with the threat of a tax for five to 10 years and said the arguments behind it were irrational.
Ms Schembri said focusing on sugar as the sole cause of contemporary health problems posed a dire threat to the industry.
“What we think is irrational about the whole debate, is that this is part of a larger debate about contemporary health problems that we have including obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” Mr Schembri said.
“These are serious issues, what we don’t accept is why sugar has been singled out and demonised.
“If you believe those advocating for a sugar tax that by suddenly imposing a sugar tax some of these contemporary health issues will disappear it is irrational.
“It is consistently said that sugar consumed in moderation can be part of a healthy, balanced and sensible diet.”
Mr Schembri said Australian’s sugar consumption was declining, with one million tonnes of sugar sold on the domestic market in 1980, the same amount sold in 2017, despite the population increasing by nine million people in that time.
“This shows consumption of sugar in Australia is on a structural decline but sugar seems to be targeted as being a villian in increased obesity rates.
“It is irrational and doesn’t make sense.”
Mr Schembri said people should take a personal responsibility for what their lifestyle choices, including what they eat and drink.
”If a sugar tax is introduced it will be seen as a state sanctioned tax on the industry.
“That puts a huge question mark over the industry as it will affect investment to both internal and external channels.”
Australian Cane Farmers Association chair Don Murday likened the tax to prohibition and said it would not work to change behaviour.
“I’m opposed to it because invariably that impost is passed back to the grower,” Mr Murday said.
“We think that an education program on the safer use of sugar is far more beneficial than expecting a tax is going to change consumption or people’s eating and drinking habits.
“There’s so many instances of prohibition not working and trying to tax something out of existence or prohibition doesn’t work.
“It’s all very well to concentrate just on sugar, but sugar is a carbohydrate and there are plenty of other forms of carbohydrate like processed wheat… Unless they tax all carbohydrate it’s not going to achieve what they want. What are they going to do? Target all food?”
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud agreed with the growers and said a soft drink tax would not solve Australia's obesity issue.
"Slapping an extra 40c on the cost of a can of soft drink will not stop people drinking soft drink, nor from buying a doughnut instead,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Increasing the family grocery bill will not magically make Australians skinny.
"The AMA has made many sensible suggestions on this topic, but a soft drink tax is not one of them."