Jamie Oliver: ‘I was robbed during the sugar tax battle’
The television chief was a strong supporter of politics and met frequently with then-Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne before his introduction.
Since the tax came into effect in April 2018, manufacturers of soft drinks containing more than 5g of sugar per 100ml have been forced to pay the Treasury a tax of 18p per litre, or 24p per litre. liter for a sugar content greater than 8 g per 100 ml.
Mr Oliver, who made an influential show called Sugar Rush before the law was implemented, spoke to Dr Michael Mosley about what happened in a Channel 4 documentary ‘Who Made Britain Fat?’, shown tomorrow.
He said: “I think it’s really important for the public to understand that among the mighty cash flows on the planet, the food industry is the mother of all businesses. To think that you can make a structural change to tax reformulation and not have heartache… I don’t know.
I’ve been spoken to, spoken to, stalked by every CEO you can imagine. Wanting to talk to me, convince me, and all kinds of things you can imagine.
When asked if he had ever felt threatened, he replied, “Honestly? I have to be very careful about what I say. The second I started pre-production on Sugar Rush until the time Sugar Tax happened is the only time in my life where I had multiple break-ins, huge digital security… you know, people come into our system. I can’t say it has anything to do with it. I can’t prove it. All I can say is that in the 46 years I have lived on this planet the only time this has happened, once let alone many times, was during this period five months.
George Osborne, who was instrumental in crafting the new law, also said he felt pressure from the food industry.
He said: ‘There were really two groups that were against it, there was a kind of old fashioned conservatives, who thought it was like the nanny state. The other group was industry. The big companies, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, they’re some of the biggest companies in the world.
“They staged a big campaign to try to stop him. They came to see me and they came to see other members of the government to say that it was wrong. And their lobbyists, the companies they employed to represent them, also made that point, and they threatened us with an ad campaign.
There are no suggestions of wrongdoing by any of the companies mentioned
It was hoped that the price hikes would dissuade Britons from buying sugary drinks, and it worked. A 2021 study found that sugar consumption from soft drinks decreased by 10%.
However, obesity levels in the UK have continued to rise and nearly two-thirds of us are either overweight or obese. A shocking 25% of children are obese by the time they reach year 6, and one in seven children are obese before reception class age.
The documentary marks 30 years since John Major introduced the first official piece of legislation designed to solve the obesity crisis in 1992. It aimed to reduce obesity levels to 7% by 2005. Instead , it rose to 23 percent in 2005, and is almost 28 percent now.
Since then, there have been 689 policies, of which only 2% have had enforceable consequences for the food industry if it did not adhere to the new laws.
When Cameron resigned following the Brexit vote, other anti-obesity policies were dropped, including a limit on supermarket offers for one buy free and a ban on fast food advertising on TV after the turning point.
Dr Moseley summed up: “If you’ve ever wondered why nothing seems to be happening and the nation seems to be getting bigger and bigger, well this is a perfect example. Really specific, evidence-based recommendations of which only one, the sugar tax, passes, the other really simple stuff is basically scrapped. And here we are in 2022, two governments later and really only I think because Boris Johnson got sick, some of the ideas here are finally resurrected.
- Michael Mosley: Who Made Britain Fat airs at 9pm on Channel 4 on Monday.