City council not 'sugar police'

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:59 04/08/2014

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Facts and figures rather than enforcement is likely to be used by the Nelson City Council to tempt vendors to adopt a healthy drinks policy.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese announced a "sugary-free" beverages policy for council-owned buildings and events following the example already set by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board.

The Nelson council is the first in the country to adopt such a policy but enforcing it has been a complex process.

While the policy has been put into action at the city's libraries, Civic House and Broadgreen House, complexity lies with vendors at council events, volunteer groups selling sugary drinks to fundraise at council facilities or events, and leaseholders of council-owned properties who sell the beverages as part of their businesses.

The council's planning and regulatory committee has discussed three ways of dealing with the vendors, volunteers and leaseholders: do nothing, take a voluntary approach based on education, or use enforcement.

Affected leaseholders include the Nelson Yacht Club restaurant, Tahunanui Beach Camp store, and Melrose Cafe.

Angela Kernohan, owner of Melrose Cafe, said she personally supported restricting unhealthy options, but thought it might be tricky for the council if it chose to enforce limits as it could hit some businesses negatively.

But, whatever the council chose, it wouldn't be an issue for her cafe.

"We choose not to sell Coke or Fanta or any pre-mixed drinks," said Kernohan.

"Our drinks list is full of local fruit juices and we do lovely special drinks like lavender or rose sodas made with soda water rather than lemonade so the quantity of sugar in our drinks is very minimal."

The committee decided to recommend to the full council, meeting on August 28, that it take a voluntary approach in which the hard facts about the impact of sugar on the city's young people are used.

"We are doing it in our house and you are welcome to join us in role modelling our behaviour," was the example the council could adopt, said the organisation's senior strategic adviser, Nicky McDonald.

A better response than strict enforcement was to lead by example and provide the evidence to back up the council's new position, said McDonald.

"Once people see the evidence they are very keen to help," she said.

Evidence cited was that a quarter of sugar consumed by young people comes through sugary drinks, with large intakes increasing the risk of tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Council staff would work with partners and groups to roll out a programme highlighting the changes and providing alternative healthy choices at all the events and meetings.

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Staff told the committee they had already heard positive feedback from vendors who wanted to get on board and would report back any other responses.

Councillor Mike Ward agreed with the staff advice saying vendors and businesses would respond much better if they could decide for themselves, with the council receiving "more kudos" by getting people onside rather "than forcing them and having them grumpy at us".

Deputy Mayor Paul Matheson backed Ward's sentiment.

"I like working alongside organisations rather than throwing the stick at them," he said.

Councillor Matt Lawrey asked staff if there was any interest from local schools in picking up the sugary-free drinks approach.

Matheson said Reese had been in contact with schools to work out how the policy could be rolled out.

WHAT'S HAPPENING?

No sugary drinks available to staff, visitors, elected members, or volunteers at: Civic House Broadgreen House Nelson City Council libraries Council meetings, workshops and training events, conferences and speaker events, and social functions funded by the council

Healthy alternatives to be provided: Water, 100 per cent juice, Unsweetened milk, Artificially sweetened or zero sugar soft drinks

- The Nelson Mail

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