Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is advising manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in beverages they sell and market in Jamaica, underscoring that by so doing, it will increase a product's competitiveness.
It comes amid a global trend in which governments are urging manufacturers to reduce the sugar content in their products in order to avoid taxes being levied on them, he said.
"If you follow the trend and start voluntarily, then it will make yours a better product, a better brand, and, frankly speaking, a more competitive brand, because consumers like when producers and suppliers demonstrate that they don't just have a good product, but also have their best interests at heart," said Tufton, who was addressing a seminar convened by Caribbean Flavours and Fragrances (CFF) at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, where it urged producers to apply new flavours to reduce sugar content.
NO NICODEMUS MOVE
The Ministry of Health said it will allow time for manufacturers to make adjustments as well as reformulations to and rebranding of their products.
"This [is being done] so you have time to adjust. We understand that there are stock and cost implications. We also understand that the taste profile has to be acceptable to the consuming public," Tufton added.
He indicated that there's a global trend in offering beverages with reduced sugar content and that governments have been taxing those above a certain threshold.
"We wouldn't be acting like Nicodemus in the night and take an approach to impose taxes without consultation and so on," he said.
"It is just a matter of time before fiscal measures are going to be examined as a serious option to put in place [measures to reduce] sugary drinks and that is a trend that is globally taking place," the Health Minister emphasised.
He indicated that a tax is usually applied above a certain threshold of sugar level.
"The fiscal measure would be applied based on the quantity of sugar in your drink," stated Tufton, who also called for a ban on sodas in and around schools.
CFF invited more than 20 manufacturers to discuss reformulating their products with less sugar without losing the taste profile, They already use CFF for flavours but not the natural flavour products aimed at mimicking sugar 'Flavour Fit' without it being an artificial sugar," said Derrick Cotterell, managing director at CFF.
"It is a major move by the manufacturers to be proactive and begin the process of reducing sugar in their products," Cotterell told the Financial Gleaner in an interview during the seminar.
Jamaicans reportedly consume more than two billion eight-ounce servings of sugary drinks per year. The World Health Organization has asked member states to develop guidelines to reduce the sugar content in food and non-alcoholic beverages. Part of those guidelines included recommendations for countries like Jamaica to consider the implementation of taxes and subsidies.
Last week, LASCO Manufacturers announced that it has reduced the sugar content in its core product line.
The company said it introduced low-sugar variants in its flagship LASCO Food Drink range, which it said has 50 per cent less sugar than the original products. It said that translates to
11 grams of sugar per serving, similar to the sugar content of Lasoy Milk Free, which is considered a low-sugar product.
In January this year, Finance Minister Audley Shaw issued a stern warning to manufacturers to lower the sugar content in their beverages going forward and not to wait on the Government to implement taxes.
"I am saying to manufacturers today, you can either respond voluntarily, or we as a government can respond to the needs of the country through appropriate policy prescriptions," said Shaw, while addressing a scientific symposium aimed at looking at fiscal measures to prevent obesity and non-communicable diseases in Jamaica.
"Fair warning, therefore, is being given today. Start the process. Don't wait for the tax act to come," he urged.