Adjust, Tufton advises makers of sugar-sweetened drinks

Sunday Observer writer

Sunday, December 09, 2018

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Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has advised manufacturers and distributors of sugar-sweetened drinks that their products must comply with the Government's guidelines for beverages in schools if they want to remain competitive in the local market.

“Your time is better spent finding a way to adjust, to improve, to be competitive, and to be accessible and accepted than to be fighting this,” he told beverage manufacturers at a forum and mini-expo in Kingston on Friday. “No company in life stays the same if it wants to remain relevant.”

Tufton's advice came on the heels of the health ministry's announcement that it will be overhauling the national school nutrition policy over the next five years, starting with banning beverages that contain high levels of sugar, effective January 1 next year.

“We need to see this as an opportunity to innovate and to remain competitive in a market that is not restricted by borders. And it's just a matter of time, because if you don't satisfy the demand, somebody else is going to satisfy it,” he forecast.

The guidelines state that as of next term, drinks containing more than six grams of sugar per 100 millilitres will be banned from schools. The allowed amount will be reduced over the next few years until it gets to just 2.5 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres in 2021.

“In other words, if you can't meet this 2.5 [grams of sugar per 100ml of drink], I bet your bottom dollar that the man who is only allowed to sell low-fat milk and flavoured water in another country is going to find an innovative person to bring it in and sell it, and enter the space that you are in, and compete with you, or replace you,” he said.

He explained that the Ministry of Education will be instrumental in ensuring that only the approved beverages make their way onto the tuck shop shelves in the next few weeks.

“Products that are going to enter the school system have to clearly and demonstrably meet the guidelines that have been set,” he warned. “There is going to be a monitoring mechanism. We are going to be using the principals to drive this process, and the tuck shop operators are going to be warned not to carry products that they cannot validate or verify.”

In addition to monitoring the products based on their labelling, Tufton said there will be regular testing of the beverages from the shelves to ensure that they adhere to the prescribed standards.

“It would be a breach in more ways than one for anyone to make a false claim about their product. Not just a breach of the school policy, but that would be a breach of the consumer affairs act, which would get a company in trouble,” he noted.

Winnie Berry, deputy chief educational officer of curriculum and support services, said that less sugar-sweetened drinks in school is a good step in educating families about proper nutrition.

“We seek to educate now from the womb to the tomb,” she said. “We seek to educate our parents, our families, how to eat right, because that is a part of their education.”

She said that the education ministry is in full support of the move because healthier students will lead to more funds being available to invest in schools.

“There will be more money to spend on education and less on medication. It is a win-win situation,” she said.

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