The sugar industry is not happy about government’s proposal to introduce sugar tax, saying such a move could have dire consequences.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced this year that government intends to introduce the tax in a bid to assist in reducing “excessive sugar intake”, but the South African Sugar Association (Sasa) strongly believes that a lot of emphasis has been put on what people eat for a long time, rather than whether people exercise.
Sasa invited the media recently on a nutrition tour to discuss sugar and health issues. According to senior dietician at Sasa, Priya Seetal, a sugar tax will have no impact on obesity or other health outcomes. “According to a study conducted four years ago, people consumed less sugar, while weight gaining was on the rise,” said Seetal.
“There is so much inaccurate information when it comes to nutrition, particularly on sugar and health, that it becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction.
“But sugar has been part of our lives for centuries and can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced lifestyle, which includes eating a variety of foods, physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight.”
The industry said it remained committed to supporting nutrition research in SA through an independent panel of scientists.
Sasa executive director Trix Trikam said: “We do not support the proposed tax as it is bound to have a devastating impact on the industry, which is already facing a severe drought and other challenging external factors. We are seriously concerned because the imposition of this tax will have significant and far-reaching consequences on the livelihood of those dependent on it.”
He said a sugar tax would also be bad for historically disadvantaged business owners. “Unfortunately, there will be job losses, an undesirable consequence which will compound our already alarmingly high unemployment rate,” he said.
“This tax poses a serious threat to the sustainability of the sugar industry.” Sugar in SA is manufactured by six milling companies with 14 sugar mills operating in cane growing regions. Sugar cane is a strategic crop in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, comprising nearly 50% of field crop gross farming income across the two provinces.
The industry produces an average of 2.3 million tons of sugar per season but the drought which hit the eastern and central parts of the country, considered to be the worst since 1992, has had an adverse effect on the industry.
Reacting to the drought and its effects, Trikam said as a result of the dry conditions, the industry has recorded a 1.6 million ton decline in the 2015-2016 season.
“Despite this drop, there is sufficient sugar to satisfy the domestic market. “The previous season of April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, closed at 2.115 million tons”.
Approximately 75% of the area where sugar cane is harvested relies on rainfall, while 25% is irrigated. In addition to dry land regions, some irrigated areas have been affected due to water restrictions. Irrigation is predominantly found in Mpumalanga as well as in Pongola, northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Rainfall is mostly needed from December to March when the crop is growing actively.