Government accused of ‘tightening the belt’ with VAT hike

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A 20 percent VAT hike on protein powder products “goes completely against other government plans to improve health and wellbeing schemes here”, says one of Northern Ireland’s top supplement experts.

Ballymoney businessman Peter Baird (pictured above) – owner of NI Supplements - says the rise, which was introduced on October 1, has the potential to add weight to an obesity epidemic already gripping the province.

Peter says he uses an array of supplements to help with his training and recovery as a competitive strongman athlete.

The gym lover, who took top spot in a national bodybuilding competition in Belfast earlier this year, recently relocated his company from his hometown in Ballymoney to the Castlereagh Road in East Belfast.

He still offers weekly shuttle run drop offs to his north coast clients, but says the enforced price rise on his range of his products has the potential to discourage people who want to improve their health with the aid of supplements.

“In general, people who come through my doors and buy my products are among the most health conscious people in the country,” said Peter.

“They look after themselves... they are much less likely to become a burden on the NHS due to poor cardiac health or obesity later in life, yet they are being hit harder in the pocket. It just doesn’t make any sense.

“It’s a real kick in the teeth for the person who has taken it into their own hands to get fit and healthy. The government has certainly taken the wrong meaning from the statement ‘health is wealth’... it’s more like wealth for their pockets.

“There is a common misconception that only bodybuilders use protein... that couldn’t be further from the truth. People on weight loss plans and those who supplement them with healthy meals on clean diets use our products to meet their goals, as well as athletes and gym users.

“The hike puts around £10 on an average tub of protein...that’s a crazy cost rise in the space of a month,” he said.

Northern Ireland is known to have one of the worst cardiac related disease rates in the world... with poor nutrition cited as a major contributor.

The recent supplement price rise came in the same month as a report from The British Dietetic Association (BDA) hit the national news, which said high levels of additional protein “can cause side-effects, including nausea as well as kidney and liver damage”.

That BDA claim was rubbished by several high profile nutritionists and the Health Food Manufacturers’ Association, which represents the supplement industry in the UK. An official statement from the association argued that compared to other foods or medicines, gym supplements have an enviable record.

That view has been backed by top British nutritionist Ben Coomber, who was in the northwest last week to offer public seminars to personal trainers and dieters on healthy eating.

Ben can boast a working relationship with some of the nation’s top athletes, including MMA star Ross Pearson and Britain’s Strongest Man Jack Lovett.

Speaking in Londonderry, he accused the government of being “greedy when other initiatives are trying to decrease the country’s waistline problem and improve health.”

STORY: ANDY CHAPMAN