Germany: Majority of States Advocate for a Sugar Tax on Soft Drinks

Nine of Germany's sixteen federal states are calling for a sugar tax on soft drinks, citing the high and unhealthy sugar content in many of these beverages. The proposal, discussed at the recent Consumer Protection Ministers' Conference in Regensburg, suggests that manufacturers of sugary soft drinks should pay a tax based on the sugar content of their products. This initiative is backed by Brandenburg, Hamburg, Bremen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, Saxony, and Thuringia. The proposal aims to follow the example of other countries that have already implemented similar taxes.

A sugar tax already exists in 10 countries in Europe (Norway, Finland, Latvia, United Kingdom and St. Helena, Ireland, Belgium, France, Hungary, Spain/Catalonia, and Portugal); in 9 countries in the Americas (some states in the USA, Bermuda, Mexico, Dominica, Barbados, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile); in 4 countries in Africa (Morocco, Mauritius, Seychelles, and South Africa); in 9 countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Maldives); and in 10 countries in the Western Pacific (Philippines, Brunei, Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu). A detailed list can be found here.

Currently, the German government relies on a voluntary commitment from the beverage industry to reduce the sugar content of their products by 15% by 2025. However, according to a study by the German Alliance for Non-Communicable Diseases (DANK), the average sugar content in non-alcoholic beverages only decreased by about 2% between 2015 and 2021, far short of what is needed for a health-promoting diet (, 21.2.2023). This shortfall has prompted renewed calls for a mandatory sugar tax.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the German Nutrition Society (DGE) recommend that adults consume no more than 50 to 60 grams of sugar per day, with lower limits for children. For example, a 0.5-liter bottle of cola contains 54 grams of sugar, exceeding the recommended daily intake for both adults and children. Despite these guidelines, the voluntary approach has not significantly reduced sugar consumption in Germany.

The proposed sugar tax would align with similar measures in the UK, where the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which was announced in 2016 and introduced in 2018 (, 25.8.2016), has led to manufacturers reducing the sugar content of their products.   Although overall beverage consumption did not decrease, the reduction in sugar content has had positive health impacts. For instance, a study found that the tax could save Germany up to EUR 16 billion in healthcare costs over the next two decades and reduce the incidence of obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

The proposal has garnered support from various experts. Michael Stolpe from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy and Falk Schwendicke from Charité in Berlin emphasize the economic and health benefits of such a tax. They argue that it would not only lower healthcare costs but also positively influence the behavior of population groups that are otherwise hard to reach.

Despite these potential benefits, German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir's push for a sugar tax faces resistance from powerful industry lobbies and political opposition within the coalition government. Nevertheless, studies, including one from the Technical University of Munich and the University of Liverpool, suggest that a sugar tax would effectively reduce sugar consumption and its associated health risks, such as type 2 diabetes.

Furthermore, a recent study published in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health journal indicated that the UK's sugar tax led to a 12% reduction in tooth extractions due to decay among children within two years of its implementation. These findings reinforce the argument for a similar tax in Germany, aiming to improve public health outcomes and reduce economic burdens associated with high sugar consumption.

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