Food and Allied Workers Union members marched to the National Treasury in Pretoria on Monday to protest against the proposed sugar tax. Picture: Phill Magakoe/Independent Media

Johannesburg - Poverty was the root of obesity as it made people consume sugared drinks instead of 100 percent real fruit juice, according to Food and Allied Workers Union general secretary Katishi Masemola.

Workers in the food industry mounted a campaign against the proposed sugar tax yesterday. They marched to the National Treasury in Pretoria to hand over their memorandum of demands.

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They called for the Treasury to convene a summit to deal with obesity and the causes of non-communicable diseases.

The union proposed that the government invite various stakeholders to discuss how to address obesity.

About 1 000 workers joined the march to express concern about possible job losses if a sugar tax is introduced.

When people consumed less sugar, there would be less production, Masemola said.

“One job loss is one too many, especially with the 26-percent unemployment rate.”

Masemola said the Treasury claimed the lost jobs would be created elsewhere such as in juice factories, despite there being no scientific study to prove that.

He said the union supported the quest for a healthy nation.

However, it disagreed that a tax on sweetened beverage products would achieve that.

Masemola said the union viewed the proposed policy as another sin tax, like those on alcohol and tobacco.

He said obesity wasn't caused only by products that contained sugar.

Obesity and the consequential diseases weren't lifestyle issues resulting from a consumption of sugary drinks, Masemola said.

The problem was rooted in dire socio-economic conditions caused by the triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Most people consumed sugary drinks because they couldn't afford 100 percent pure fruit juice, he said.

Treasury chief director Lwazi Giba received the memorandum and said he would ensure it was delivered to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's office.