Government must tackle sugar supply, say experts

Actions to control the supply of sugar through agriculture and trade policy are needed to reduce sugar consumption in the UK, according to a new briefing from the Food Research Collaboration.

Total sugar consumption in the UK is currently three times the government recommendation. Government policies – including the tax on sugar-sweetened drinks and the voluntary sugar reduction programme – have been put in place to reduce consumption but are being undermined by agricultural policies that aim to increase production and reduce the price of sugar, the report’s authors warned.

In their new paper, Dr Ben Richardson from Warwick University and Jack Winkler, Emeritus Professor at London Metropolitan University, argue that these demand-side policy instruments – as well as those also being mooted, such as the restriction of price promotions or advertisements of products that are high in sugar – need to be complemented by supply-side measures.

EU agricultural and trade policies have become increasingly orientated to the demands of food and drink manufacturers, ensuring them wider access to cheaper sources of sugar and sweetener, they explained. This has “undermined efforts to encourage food manufacturers to use less sugar and is expected to exacerbate existing public health problems”.

Brexit is an opportunity to reduce the availability and affordability of sugar to the food and drink industry, the academics suggested. Five policies are discussed in the paper. These include controls on sugar production and imports through the introduction of a marketing quota, as well as a quantitative limit on the amount of sugar that can be sold within a given market. They also suggest reintroducing a “minimum price” for sugar, which could be used to “promote public health by incrementally raising prices to food and drink manufacturers to encourage reformulation, as well as changing the way that farm subsidies are allocated”.

“Currently, Defra is trying to raise the production of sugar, while Public Health England is trying to lower its consumption,” explained Professor Winkler. “We need a joined up sugar policy.”

 The paper is available here.

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