Jamaica: Mahfood fingers Bloomberg among US anti-sugar donors

William Mahfood

(Jamaica Gleaner) The estimated multibillion-dollar campaign designed to influence policymakers to impose a minimum 20 per cent sugar tax on drinks is funded by external forces with no genuine interest in the promotion of health, a Jamaican business czar has claimed.

Chairman of the Wisynco Group, William Mahfood, making the charge on Thursday, said he was at a loss as to the real reason behind the media blitz that has seen a flood of TV, radio, and print advertisements positing a causative link between high sugar intake and recent spikes in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“I am talking about big financial motivation coming at us from overseas for the sugary drinks issue. That motivation is financing the media campaigns that many of you see – the television ads, newspapers, billions of dollars being spent from overseas to try and drive policy on tax in Jamaica,” Mahfood told the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Kingston at the Alhambra Inn.

“It is clear that the agenda is to get taxes being put on sugary drinks, and it is being funded by the Bloomberg Foundation. We can’t say what the purpose is. Bloomberg does some great work on tobacco, and so forth, but I think the evidence is not yet clear as to whether taxes on sugary beverages is going to reduce obesity and impact diabetes. What we need to do is focus more on total awareness around health and lifestyle rather than just attacking one type of product,” he told The Gleaner after the meeting.

The Bloomberg Foundation was established by United States billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has an estimated net worth of US$58 billion.

Mahfood’s Wisynco, a beverage manufacturer and distributor, has come under pressure from government policy banning, in schools, the sale of drinks containing more than six grams of sugar. That took effect on January 1. Wisynco also has distribution investments in sugar with Worthy Park Estate.

Meanwhile, project manager for the Global Health Advocacy Project of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Barbara McGaw, refused to disclose the quantum of overseas funding but admitted that the media campaign receives money from the United States-based Global Health Advocacy Incubator, which is a beneficiary of the Bloomberg Foundation.

“Bloomberg is one of the funders for the Global Advocacy Incubator … but it is an open book. It’s on the Internet,” said McGaw. “It is not anything to be hidden,” she told The Gleaner.

McGaw went on to explain that the Incubator funds similar projects in Barbados, Mexico, Colombia, and South Africa, all with the common aim of promoting healthy lifestyle habits. The imposition of sugary taxes has been a tried and proven strategy, she said.

“Everything we do is evidence based. We don’t just get off our head and say, ‘Oh, let us just do this’. The fact is, several countries in the Caribbean have already passed a tax – Bermuda, Barbados, and Dominica – and there are two other countries, I think The Bahamas and another one, that are looking into it because the revenue can be used for health initiatives to address the cost of NCDS,” McGaw added.

 

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