CANEGROWERS chairman Paul Schembri says is he is bitterly disappointed that fellow agricultural organisation AUSVEG has attacked the cane industry in its call for a sugar tax.
AUSVEG, a Melbourne based industry body representing more than 9000 vegetable and potato growers, yesterday took the controversial step of endorsing a sugar tax. The group says revenue from sugar-heavy water-based drinks could be used to fund public health campaigns to fight Australia’s ongoing obesity epidemic.
Ironically, the organisation is silent on supporting a similar tax for vegetable based fast foods which have also been linked to obesity. The group has, however, been a fierce opponent of backpacker tax, which it says would damage its industry.
“At very least they could have contacted us and we could have sat down and we discussed why they are sadly misinformed to be promoting a sugar tax that targets a single industry,” Mr Schembri said.
“A sugar tax would do enormous reputational damage to our industry that would cascade back on Australia’s 4500 cane producers and the 40,000 or 50,000 people associated with the sugar industry.
“What we really need to do is start dealing in facts and end the nonsense that AUSVEG is now promoting. It is implausible that targeting a single ingredient will be the panacea for obesity or any other health related issue.”
Mr Schembri said sugar consumption in Australia was already in major decline.
“The facts are that in 1980 one million tonnes of sugar was sold into Australia,” he said. “Fast forward to now and we are still only selling one million tonnes of sugar into Australia.
“Over that period our population has gone from 14.7 million people to 24 million people. In addition, the rate of diabetes, heart disease and obesity has increased. It is nonsense to be suggesting that penalising a single industry is a fair or logical way of addressing these issues.”
Mr Schembri’s comments were endorsed by acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce who reiterated in Mackay today there would be no sugar tax under a federal Liberal National Party government.
AUSVEG said the potential for the introduction of a sugar tax resurfaced this week when Victorian Liberal MP Russell Broadbent challenged his colleagues to consider implementing the measure. The Australian Greens also campaigned on a sugar tax during this year’s federal election.
AUSVEG chief executive officer Simon Bolles said Australia was in the middle of a public health epidemic.
“We need to see more government intervention to try and tackle some of the root causes of the continuing increase in the amount of Australians who are overweight or obese,” Mr Bolles said.
“As a nation, we need to get serious about our health. All options should be on the table, including the introduction of targeted, product-specific taxes that can raise valuable funds for preventative health measures, including eating more fresh vegetables.
“The revenue raised from a tax on sugar-heavy water-based drinks could provide funding for large-scale, long-term public health campaigns to help fight the obesity epidemic, to encourage Australians to make healthier choices.”
AUSVEG is the leading horticultural body representing Australian vegetable and potato growers.
Mr Bolles said a sugar tax would also create an incentive for Australian consumers to incorporate healthier food options, including more fresh vegetables, into their diet and support hardworking Australian vegetable growers.
“We want to encourage Australians to increase their consumption of fresh produce, including fresh vegetables, which are well-recognised for their health and nutritional benefits,” Mr Bolles said.
“The benefits of a balanced diet are universally acknowledged, and activities funded by a sugar tax could help encourage Australians to make the dietary choices that set them on the right path to a healthier life.”
Mr Schembri said like all Australians cane growers supported healthier lifestyles.
“We are saying that in moderation, sugar is part of a healthy, balanced diet,” he said.
Queensland Country Life has sought additional comment from AUSVEG.