Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong: Mdm Chair, the harmful effect of excessive sugar consumption has led to Britain recently introducing a sugar tax. Singapore, like the UK is experiencing an ageing population and the prevalence of obesity and heart disease. There are also local characteristics to the problem as Asians are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and in fact over 10% of adult Singaporeans are currently diabetic and is the second highest proportion in the developed world. It will therefore appear that we should seriously consider a sugar-tax.
However the effectiveness of the sugar-tax is questionable, at least in Singapore as it will likely turn out to be a requisite tax on vulnerable Singaporeans. We should focus instead on empowering Singaporeans towards making healthier choices and adjustments to their lifestyle. I request the Government consider mandating the labelling of free-sugar content in processed foods where the calories and percentage of daily intake of free-sugar need to be prominently displayed on food packaging.
The sugar content should also be colour-coded with green, amber and red. Labelling should be in line with WHO guidelines of cutting free-sugar consumption to less than 10% of daily calorie-intake. This can be rolled out in phases, starting in canned and packet drinks, for example a can of Coca-Cola contains added sugar amounting to 80% of the current WHO guidelines and should be labelled red.
Health warnings that read "Drinking beverages with excessive added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay" should be attached to drinks that are labelled red. Studies to track whether labelling has resulted in consumers making better choices should be conducted to improve the labelling and gauge in success before we even consider a sugar-tax.
The Minister of State for Health (Mr Chee Hong Tat): Mdm Chair, with an ageing population, it is not feasible for Singapore to meet future healthcare demand by simply building more and more hospitals, hiring more and more healthcare workers and providing more and more subsidies. We must also focus on developing a sustainable healthcare system. If we shift too far to the right, we will not be doing right by our fellow Singaporeans. If we overspend and shift too far to the left, our children will have nothing left in the future.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu asked about measures to discourage consumption of unhealthy food products. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh asked if we could introduce colour-coded labels for sugar content in processed food and drinks. I thank Dr Chia and Assoc Prof Goh for their useful suggestions. We will study their proposals as part of the fight against diabetes.
Many food manufacturers already practise back-of-pack nutritional labelling. HPB’s Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS) helps consumers make healthier purchases, through an identifiable front-of-pack symbol. There are currently 2,500 HCS products across 70 food categories. These products contain less sugar, saturated fat, or salt. A 2015 consumer survey showed a high level of awareness of HCS products. Nine in 10 said they recognised these products as healthier options, and eight in 10 said they use HCS to guide their food purchases.
HPB has worked with close to 240 supermarkets on in-store promotions, such as lucky draws, food sampling and cooking demonstrations. I am glad to know that HCS products are gaining market share. Sales of HCS products are growing at 9% annually. Our target is to increase the total market share for HCS products to 25% by 2020, up from the current 17%.