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Big, Evil Sugar

Via boing boing comes a story in the Guardian on the US sugar industry's opposition to new nutritional guidelines from the World Health Organization:

The sugar industry in the US is threatening to bring the World Health Organisation to its knees by demanding that Congress end its funding unless the WHO scraps guidelines on healthy eating, due to be published on Wednesday.

The threat is being described by WHO insiders as tantamount to blackmail and worse than any pressure exerted by the tobacco lobby.

In a letter to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the WHO's director general, the Sugar Association says it will "exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature" of the WHO's report on diet and nutrition, including challenging its $406m (£260m) funding from the US.

The industry is furious at the guidelines, which say that sugar should account for no more than 10% of a healthy diet. It claims that the review by international experts which decided on the 10% limit is scientifically flawed, insisting that other evidence indicates that a quarter of our food and drink intake can safely consist of sugar.

"Taxpayers' dollars should not be used to support misguided, non-science-based reports which do not add to the health and well-being of Americans, much less the rest of the world," says the letter. "If necessary we will promote and encourage new laws which require future WHO funding to be provided only if the organisation accepts that all reports must be supported by the preponderance of science." ...

The Sugar Association objects to the new report having been published in draft on the WHO's website for consultation purposes, without what it considers "a broad external peer-review process". It wants a full economic analysis of the impact of the recommendations on all 192 member countries. In the letter to Dr Brundtland, it demands that Wednesday's joint launch with the Food and Agriculture Organisation be cancelled...

The industry does not accept the WHO report's conclusion that sweetened soft drinks contribute to the obesity pandemic. The Washington-based National Soft Drink Association said the report's "recommendation on added sugars is too restrictive". The association backs a 25% limit.

The Sugar Association is proposing to withhold all US funding from the WHO -- yes, the people fighting to contain SARS and numerous other worldwide health threats -- if they don't agree that people should feel free to consume one-quarter of all their calories from added sugars. This goes beyond audacious self-interest. This is -- and I don't use the term lightly -- evil.

This is just the latest example of the destructive self-interest practices of the US sugar lobby. They have long sought and received unfair trade protections that cost US consumers billions of dollars, as described in this 2002 article from the Cato Institute:

Through its sugar program, the U.S. government guarantees a minimum price to domestic sugar growers by restricting imports and by buying and storing excess production. The result of this intervention is a domestic sugar price that is typically two or three times the world market price. The losers are millions of American families that consume sugar, along with sugar-using industries such as candy-makers, and sugar growers in mostly poor countries.

As with other protectionist policies, the biggest losers are consumers. American families pay for this program every time they buy Christmas candy and cookies, a bag of sugar, soft drinks or candy bars. A report by the U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that, in 1998, American sweetener users paid an extra $1.9 billion a year because of the U.S. sugar program...

Also paying the price for the sugar program are taxpayers and the environment. To mop up overproduction caused by price supports and protection, the federal government bought nearly 1 million tons of sugar last year only to store it in government warehouses. The buying and storing of excess sugar will cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion over the next 10 years. Taxpayers are also paying billions of dollars to help clean up the Florida Everglades, where excess sugar production in the region has disrupted water flows and dumped pollutants such as phosphorus in waterways.

The sugar program has caused damage beyond our borders. The depressed global sugar prices caused by U.S. protectionism cost sugar producers in poor nations an estimated $1.5 billion a year in lost export earnings. Our stubborn refusal to open our sugar market has complicated the efforts of U.S. trade negotiators to open foreign markets to American exports, including services, manufactured goods, and farm products such as soy beans and corn in which we enjoy a natural competitive advantage...

The U.S. sugar program is a classic case of concentrated benefits and diffused costs. A small number of sugar growers receive enormous benefits, while the costs of providing those benefits are spread across the U.S. economy, specifically to consumers and confectioners. Consequently, U.S. sugar producers have a strong incentive to lobby and fund campaigns of U.S. policy-makers. Dominated largely by two companies in Florida (Flo-Sun and U.S. Sugar), the sugar lobby has been a major financial contributor to incumbent politicians.

Enough is enough. Big Sugar must be stopped.

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Comments

It costs US jobs as well...

"Kraft, based in nearby Northfield, Ill., pays half as much for Canadian sugar as for American. So when the company was looking to close its underutilized LifeSavers plant in Holland, Mich., it set its sights across the border. This January, Kraft announced it would move its traditional LifeSavers line to its Mount Royal plant near Quebec City. The move, to be completed by next year, will mean the loss of 600 jobs." from Christian Science Monitor article on "Bitter Reality."

Makes me want to switch to Jolly Rancher hard candy, depsite being an alumnus of Nabisco/Planters/LifeSavers 11 years ago, but maybe I better check out where they're made first.

No surprise there. I met a former US Sugar PR staffer; she was starchy, not sweet.

That's scary stuff. Of course the real solution to this problem is to simply include less sugar in your daily diet. If less people are consuming sugar, there will be less demand for it thus the sugar companies would suffer. I realize the improbability of this happening on any large scale, but it's just something to think about the next time you're tempted to grab that Snickers while waiting at the grocery check-out.

Further on this subject, I have often found that foods which traditionally are loaded with sugar are still quite delicious (if not more) with less sugar. I recently had the opportunity to try a brand of chocolate from Finland, which I tell you was a heavenly experience which still lingers on my tongue. My taste buds noticed that the Finnish chocolate tasted considerably less sweet than most American brands, but the rich, sensuous cocoa flavor was far more prominent in the Finnish type. It seems that in many modern, packaged foods, sugars and sweeteners like corn syrup are added in excess, masking the original flavors of the foods.

For just empty calories, refined sugar sure does create quite a quiet tragedy for our economy (as I recently learned from the arcticle above), diversity of flavors, even enviroment, and principally and most importantly, our health.

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