AMA calls for sugary drinks to be taxed in Australia.
AMA calls for sugary drinks to be taxed in Australia. Contributed

Sugar tax would be a disaster for local industry

AS AUSTRALIA'S obesity rates continue to rise the debate for a tax on sugary drinks becomes more prominent, and local sugar mills have weighed in.

Australia has become one of the fattest nations on Earth and the latest figures reveal sixty per cent of Australians are overweight or obese, and by 2025 that figure will rise to 80 per cent.

In January, the Australian Medical Association said they supported a proposal to apply a tax to sugar-sweetened beverages "in order to reduce consumption".

AMA said the tax "should be introduced as a matter of priority".

A sugar drink tax has been introduced in to 28 countries so far but if it is introduced down under, what will it mean for our own mills?

Sunshine Sugar owns and operates three sugar mills and a refinery, situated in the Tweed, Richmond and Clarence Valley's.

Chief Executive Officer, Chris Conners, said in the wake of the debate they were the first to produce a new, healthier product.

Sunshine Sugar will be the first in the world to install the technology to produce Nucane - a sugar that is rich in antioxidants with a low glycemic index.

Using new technology developed by Nutrition Innovation, the product retains naturally occurring minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium in the production of cane sugar, becoming a wholesome sugar that was more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised - allowing for a lower and slower rise in blood glucose.

It was specifically designed for industrial customers who require a precise and consistent, but healthier specification for sugar to use in their existing brands and recipes.

"We've actually gone out and done our research and are now in production of a new low GI sugar - a new healthy sugar," Mr Conners said.

"Our view is, eat the new low GI sugar where you need to - particularly diabetics."

Sunshine sugar goes into full production at the end of June and consumers can expect the Nucane product to hit the shelves of major retailers in the next six months.

There will also be products available - chocolate, milk drinks, soft drinks that will have the low GI sugar in them.

Mr Conners said a sugar tax was "about obesity at the end of the day and (was) a very focused way of dealing with an issue".

"It's about people's diets and their exercise patterns, it's really back to the consumer's choice of what they are going to eat and how much of it they are going to eat.

"The focus on sugar is simply not warranted at the end of the day but if that's the direction we are going to head then lets see if we can put in place a policy that covers everything, not just simply sugar."

He said more than 80 per cent of Australian-produced sugar was exported, and Sunshine sugar - which employs 1200 people - was one of few mills producing sugar that was distributed domestically.

"A sugar tax could have a fairly big impact on our industry when you think about where the sugar is produced and what's kept in Australia and what's distributed overseas," Mr Conners said.

"All of our sugar goes in to the domestic market, in other words you're targeting NSW sugar with this tax."

He said although the tax would aim to reduce consumption, it still might not make a difference in reducing obesity if people don't change their eating habits.

"What will happen (if a tax is introduced) is the manufacturer of the product will be looking for price changes...they'll be looking for reduced prices which will come back to us and to our growers.

"You're actually putting a tax on a grower."

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