United Kingdom vs. Sugar

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Childhood Obesity News discussed the reputation of Public Health England (PHE), the health advisory unit which is attached to the Department of Health yet operationally autonomous, and which stands accused of containing too many people connected with the food and soda industries.

Research and consulting firm GlobalData reported on PHE plan titled “Sugar Reduction: Achieving the 20%.” Using 2015 as the baseline, the goal is to, by the year 2020, reduce the sugar in processed food by 20%. At the same time, the stockholders have expectations that must be met. Projections in those dangerous categories say that sales will increase “from almost £22 billion in 2016 to more than £25 billion by 2020.” ($28 billion to $32 billion.)

The first thought that comes to mind is, what does the sugar industry say about losing one-fifth of its business, which is a rather significant chunk of change? Obesity-wise, the most egregious offenders are cakes, biscuits (British for cookies), pies and tarts (which the English call puddings); also “morning goods,” encompassing pastries, buns, and waffles.

Breakfast cereals, which seem like they should be included in morning goods, are not, but have their own separate category. Also, ice cream, lollies and sorbets; sweet spreads and sauces; sweet confectionary; chocolate confectionery; yogurt; and fromage frais (a type of soft, creamy cheese).

GlobalData’s report said that in order to succeed, campaigners must “embrace a holistic program” and warned that taxation can’t do the whole job. PHE’s plan includes “structured and closely monitored sugar reduction campaigns” and also considers product reformulation, or changing the recipes, which will look at not only sugar, but salt and saturated fat.

A conference

In the first half of 2016, the amount of discussion over sugar suppression was described as “unprecedented” — but then the issue was, as the Brits say, “overtaken by events” as the furor of debate over leaving the European Union monopolized attention.

In April, a few days before the June 2017 election, the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum, basically a conference on sugar reduction policy, took place. Journalist Ben Cooper reported on the gathering of “politicians and campaigners, along with representatives from industry and public health,” and of course industry lobbyists from the Food and Drink Federation. Topics were reformulation, regulation, and consumer choice.

The 20% by 2020 sugar reduction plan is not universally beloved. Among the reasons are the lack of rules around the use of film and television characters in promotions, advertising, and packaging. There is also a feeling that, along with sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks, sugary milk-based beverages should be equally taxed. Scotland, which is part of the U.K., seems eager to extend the sugar tax beyond soda and into the realm of food products.

There was talk of new ways of presenting information to consumers, such as “activity-equivalence calorie labelling” and the notion of “front-of-pack traffic lights labelling to exercise.” In other words, the energy exchange doctrine, whose purpose is to place on the consumer all “responsibility” (otherwise known as blame) for obesity, is in full force.

Cooper wrote:

A recurring theme during the morning was the importance of a multi-stranded policy approach, which will be welcomed by industry representatives, always keen to push for solutions that do not focus on “demonising” specific foods or the companies that produce them. There was, as more than one speaker suggested, no “silver bullet”.

On the upside, since Brexit will bring separation from the EU Common Agricultural Policy, entailing many changes, activists see the potential for a redesign of the U.K.’s food and farming policies and perhaps a revamping of the entire regulatory framework. But these are very long-term visions.

Breaking up is hard to do, and there is a lot of politicking to get through first. There are vague promises to study how the soda tax works out, and use the results as evidence to consider taxing sugary foods, but that research project could be drawn out for years without leading to any action.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “UK Sugar Reduction Plan Goes Beyond Taxation, Says GlobalData,” FoodIngredientsFirst.com, 04/07/17
Source: “UK sugar debate becoming more measured,” Just-food.com, 05/01/17
Photo credit: Leonard Bentley via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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