THE proposal to include milk products among the sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) which will be taxed P10 per liter will bring these basic commodities beyond the reach of low-income consumers which may worsen undernutrition among Filipino children, the Philippine Chamber of Food Manufacturers, Inc. said.

“We respectfully pray that the Senate will not include any Milk Tax in HB No. 5636 because we firmly believe that by taxing milk, it will deprive the lower income and undernourished segments of the population of access to a rich source of affordable nutrition,” Food Chamber President Elizabeth M. de Leon-Lim said in a statement on Wednesday.

The chamber said the proposed sugar tax which will include milk products is likely to increase the prices of powdered milk by 11% to 26%.

Flavored milk may see a hike of around 11% to 34%.

The levy on sugar-sweetened drinks is part of the proposed Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIn) bill, the government’s comprehensive tax reform program, which consolidates more than 50 tax-related measures.

TRAIN aims to provide lower personal income taxes while imposing a higher excise taxes on fuel, new cars, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Senate Bill 1408, its counterpart at the Senate, is undergoing deliberations.

The group, citing a study by nongovernment organization Save the Children and the Food Nutrition Research Institute, said the government incurred losses amounting to some P328 billion in 2013 in education and productivity due to child undernutrition or 2.84% of gross domestic product (GDP) for the year.

The study found that cases of stunting among children under five years old climbed by more than 10% from 2013 to 2015 — to 33.4% in 2015 from 30.3% in 2013.

Cases of underweight children increased to 21.5% from 20% two years prior.

The group also noted that when the United Kingdom, the United States and Mexico levied sugar-sweetened drinks taxes, they excluded milk and dairy products.

The food chamber represents the country’s major food and beverage manufacturers employing an aggregate work force of 700,000. — Janina C. Lim