Colombia Votes to Tax Junk Food and Sugary Drinks
Colombian civil society group Red PaPaz outside Congress during the vote.

Colombia’s Congress has voted to impose taxes on ultra-processed foods and sugary drinks to curb obesity and address other health issues.

Ultra-processed foods facing taxes are those with high added sugars, salt, and saturated fats, including sausages, cereals, jellies and jams, purees, sauces, condiments and seasoning. 

These will face a 10% tax in September 2023, 15% in 2024, and 20% in 2025.

The tax on sugary drinks comes into effect in July 2023, covering drinks including sodas, malt-based beverages, tea or coffee-type beverages, fruit juices and nectars, energy drinks, sports drinks, flavoured waters, and powder mixes. The tax rate will depend on the amount of sugar contained in the drinks.

The taxes are part of a package that also imposes a new carbon tax on coal and single-use plastics, additional taxes on oil and gas companies, and taxes for people earning over $2000 a month. The new package is estimated to generate $4 billion, or around 1.4% of GDP.

For over six years, civil society groups led by the children’s rights group Red PaPaz have advocated for additional taxes on junk food and drinks.

They eventually succeeded in getting support across party lines for the measures after an advocacy campaign that targeted the finance ministry and members of Congress, as well as educating the public.

Research from the Colombian government has found that three-quarters of children and young people drank at least one sugary drink every day (Ministerio de Salud y Protección Social, 2018).

Meanwhile, 22.4% of Colombian women were overweight or obese – largely as a result of unhealthy eating.

Earlier in the year, Red PaPaz, the Center for the Study of Justice, Law, and Society (Dejusticia). José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective (CAJAR) reported on how they had faced huge push-back from the industry as they campaigned for warning signs on unhealthy food and increased taxes.

Undue corporate influence on policies and regulations poses a significant risk to the rights to health and to adequate food of vulnerable populations, particularly children, women, and indigenous people,” the organisations said in a media report.

“There are several reported cases in Colombia in which corporations have exercised their influence on the government to prevent the adoption of higher standards of protection for the rights to health and to adequate food, including front-of-package warning labels on ultra-processed products, taxes on sweetened beverages, restrictions on the sale of ultra-processed products in schools, and regulations on advertising to children. These four policy measures have been recommended by the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization as cost-effective forms of preventing obesity and overweight.”

Image Credits: Ashley Green / Unsplash.

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