Sugar tax likely to be recommended in budget, Harris

New nutrition standards for school meals programme announced

Ebony Caffrey (10) from City Quay School during a joint launch of new nutrition standards for the State’s School Meals Programme.Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

Ebony Caffrey (10) from City Quay School during a joint launch of new nutrition standards for the State’s School Meals Programme.Photograph: Gareth Chaney/ Collins

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said the Government is likely to recommit to introducing a sugar tax in the upcoming budget.

Mr Harris said he wants to see a sugar tax “that changes behaviour rather than generates income”.

“Then minister for finance Michael Noonan announced a sugar tax in last year’s budget and I expect that the Minister for Finance is likely to recommit to that on budget day,” he said on Monday.

“It is the intention of the Government in introducing any such tax to align the introduction date with the introduction date of that in the UK and northern Ireland so that’s still my expectation that it’ll happen but it is a matter for the department of finance.”

If introduced, the tax is expected to result in a 10 cent rise in the price of soft drinks.

“What we’ve already seen is a number of our companies move towards reformulation towards actually producing food with less sugar content and we see this right across Europe,” Mr Harris added.

“When I meet counterpart health ministers across the EU, we are seeing where the introduction of a sugar tax has taken place, more and more companies are producing food with less and less sugar.”

School Meals Programme

Mr Harris was speaking a at the launch of new nutrition standards for the State’s School Meals Programme.

The programme provides school meals for up to 250,000 children in primary and post-primary education every year, mostly disadvantaged Deis schools.

Mr Harris said working across departments “we can ensure that the State will only actually fund school meals that are healthy and that are in compliance with our nutritional standards”.

“This will give our children in our schools a much greater chance at having a healthy lifestyle and tackling obesity which is such a priority for the government,” he said.

The standards take account of revisions to the food pyramid last year that emphasise the role of salads, fruit and vegetables with less prominence to cereals, breads, potatoes, pasta and rice.

Food and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt, which are at the top of the pyramid, should not be consumed more than once or twice a week. The standards also emphasise the role of milk and water as the best drinks to serve children. Schools will not receive funding if they fail to follow the new standards.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty said the standards would “ensure that the taxpayer’s money that’s being spent is providing healthy, nutritious food for the children in school”.

“This obesity crisis that is looming, I think it is incumbent upon the State across departments to make sure that we do stuff that provides good incentives for children to lead healthy and happy lifestyles,” she said.

The Department of Social Protection spends just under €48million per year on the programme. Ursula O’Dwyer, health promotion policy adviser with the Department of Health said “previously what happened was you could provide anything as such”.

“People were asked to follow the food pyramid but there weren’t exactly standards and there was no monitoring of any kind of standards,” she said.

“People would follow the food pyramid but the Department of Social Protection noticed that gradually there was more and more treat foods coming in on receipts because that’s how they monitor it.”

“It’s fine for children to have those at special occasions or whatever, but the State is actually funding the scheme in order to provide the children with food so that they can actually concentrate and work through the school day,” she added.

Example of School Meals using the nutrition standards

Breakfast: A third of a cup of porridge oats with a serving of milk

Snack: A 125g yogurt and a medium sized apple

Lunch or after-school meal: Two thin slices of wholemeal bread with 50-75g of chicken with salad and a medium orange

Dinner: Two medium potatoes (boiled or steamed) with 50-75g of cooked lean beef, a portion of vegetables (boiled or steamed) with a glass of milk (200ml) and 10-12 berries or grapes