Sweet optimism

The British charity, Action on Sugar has never understated its concerns when it comes to sugar reduction. In its latest report, Sugar Pollution, you could argue it goes even further – pointing to the impacts on public health and the environment of producing, importing and consuming too much sugar.

Action on Sugar and the environmental organisation Feedback are calling for more policy to curb sugar consumption – and not just on policies on sugar focused mainly on reducing high sugar consumption but now also on what they see as the “oversupply” of sugar “flooding” the market.

They argue that the UK sugar supply is equivalent to over two-and-a-half times the amount needed to meet the population’s maximum recommended intake, driving tooth decay, which hospitalises over 600 children a week, and contributing to levels of obesity that cost the NHS around £6.5 billion a year.

Compelling figures. But there’s more. The organisations say the UK uses around 100,000 hectares of prime agricultural land to grow sugar beet, providing just over 50% of the UK’s sugar supply.

The strategy of reducing high sugar consumption has not paid off: the final report from the government’s voluntary reformulation programme found a 7% increase in total sugar sold across all foods included in the programme.

Action on Sugar believes it is time to address supply and demand in an integrated way, freeing up land for the production of nutritious food to address the food security and cost of living crisis, and reducing the health burden imposed by an oversupply of sugar.

Such a move will require the most persuasive of negotiators to make integration come to fruition, particularly as the charities insist on a variety of measures such as introducing a quota on domestic sugar beet production, phase out subsidies to sugar beet production, and implement fiscal measures to disincentivise sugar production and sale.

The arguments for sugar reduction are well put and the industry has responded. Can it do more? Certainly. Will it? Yes, When? Good question. There is no single or simple solution. Some of the measures proposed in Action on Sugar’s document will lead to additional taxation of food, which will hit…(and I’ll leave it there).

We can’t ignore the challenge of an industry supporting a huge amount of jobs, albeit struggling with recruitment, and one which, at the same time, has to make money.

There’s some cause for optimism. Everyone understands the need to reduce sugar individually as well as the important benefits in the fight against climate change. If accepted, the curbs set out by Action on Sugar mean there will be growing pains and these need to be noted, and action taken for the good of industry. For policies to be effective, we must consider the full impact across the three – environmental, social, and economic – pillars.

Change always takes time, so goodwill and, crucially, support from the top, would go some way to making sugar reduction truly sweet.

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