Chocolate slabs on sale in Countdown Dunedin Central
yesterday. Photo by Vaughn Elder.
A sugar tax is needed before sweet deals make Otago
residents obese, University of Otago researcher Associate Prof
Tony Merriman says.
Prof Merriman, of the School of Medical Sciences in Dunedin,
said sugary supermarket deals such as 50 peanut slabs for $40
at Countdown yesterday or three litres of soft drink for $1
at New World during Orientation Week encouraged poorer diets
and went against the Government's $40 million Healthy
Families NZ anti-obesity initiative.
From October, the health initiative would roll out in
Invercargill, East Cape, the Far North District, Lower Hutt,
Rotorua, Whanganui, Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura,
Spreydon-Heathcote and Waitakere.
In each community, health promotion staff would work with
schools, early childhood education centres, workplaces and
sport clubs to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle
Prof Merriman said the Government was not doing enough to
fight the obesity crisis in New Zealand.
''The Government has clearly indicated it shows no interest
in intervening in the free market. Supermarkets are
definitely the worst offenders, in having such cheap food
laden with sugar and very little nutrient ... How does he
[Health Minister Tony Ryall] honestly think that the campaign
is ever going to work?''
The obesity issue was complex but the Government should
remove GST from fruit and vegetables and tax food with added
''The more sugar a food has in it, the more expensive it
The tax would apply only to added sugar and not natural
sugar, he said.
The Government and free market were to blame rather than the
''People are being encouraged to buy good deals and the
Government says that it is implicitly OK because it is a free
market. Can you blame people? I don't.''
Mr Ryall said the Government had no plan to remove GST from
fruit and vegetables or tax food with added sugar.
''A tax on food with sugar will make all new Zealanders pay
to influence the decision of some. Such a tax would push up
the cost of a whole range of staple products like honey and
When Mr Ryall was asked if he would like to change his sugary
product list because honey had no added sugar, just natural
sugar, and would be exempt from Prof Merriman's proposed tax,
Mr Ryall said he stood by his comment.
The ODT contacted supermarket operators yesterday and
asked if the comments about supermarkets being the worst
offenders for selling cheap sugary food with little nutrient
value was fair.
Foodstuffs New Zealand spokeswoman said its stores, including
Pak'n Save, New World and Four Square, offered a mix of
products on special to meet its customers' needs, including a
mix of fresh and packaged goods, frozen foods and beauty
A Countdown spokeswoman said it reduced prices across the
store and not just on popular items such as chocolate and
''We're also working with our own brand suppliers to
introduce the new health star rating on our own products.''