Taxes, ad bans, label warnings? Beverage firms which fail to meet Singapore’s sugar reduction targets in government's sights

By Gary Scattergood

- Last updated on GMT

The Singapore government is targetting high sugar products under its 'War on Diabetes'. ©iStock
The Singapore government is targetting high sugar products under its 'War on Diabetes'. ©iStock

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The Singapore government is weighing up a range of measures, including taxes, more stringent advertising bans and warning labels on products, for soft drink manufacturers that fail to meet its sugar reduction objectives.

Several sources have told us that a meeting took place on Friday involving the Ministry of Health, Health Promotion Board, industry representatives and trade groups.

It is understood that officials said that no firm decisions had been taken and that they wanted to consult with industry. But it was stressed that nothing was off the table, including a possible sugar tax.

A sugar tax would be the most punitive approach, and according to one person at the meeting, the least likely to be adopted because officials are more concerned with improving public health than generating revenue.

The Singapore government is currently waging a ‘War on Diabetes’ amid projections that one-in-five of the population will have the condition by 2050.

Seven of the industry’s biggest firms  – Coca-Cola, F&N Foods, Malaysia Dairy Industries, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pokka, and Yeo Hiap Seng – have already committed to a maximum sugar content of 12% for all of their drinks sold in Singapore by 2020.

At present, those firms’ drinks that are currently above the sugar limit include Coca-Cola’s A&W sarsaparilla, Schweppes bitter lemon and Fanta Strawberry, PepsiCo's mug root beer and Mountain Dew, Pokka’s soursop juice drink and guava juice drink, partner brands that it manufactures for - Kickapoo, Sinalco and Green Spot, and Yeo Hiap Seng’s tamarind juice drink.

Advertising action

It is understood Friday’s meeting was to discuss measure that could be taken against companies that don’t pledge to reduce sugar limits, or succeed in doing so, to officials’ satisfaction.

Another option mooted included more stringent advertising restrictions. At present, products that are targeted at children aged 12 and under need to meet “common nutrition criteria” ​that set out the maximum calorie, salt, fat and sugar content.

Those that don’t pass the test are not allowed to advertise on billboards near schools, or on childrens’ and free-to-air TV channels.

Another option would see health or warning labels added to high-sugar products, or for the total amount of sugar content to be displayed on the packaging.

Another source also told us they expected to see bans on high sugar beverages being sold in government buildings and hospitals.

At present, school canteens can only sell drinks containing 6 per cent sugar or less.

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