On 28 October, FRC held a roundtable meeting on “Sugar: charting a path forward” under Chatham House rules. 24 academics and CSO experts from public health, the consumer lobby, the environment, jobs and trade and UK farming attended.
The purpose was to see whether a cross sectorial consensus is possible on sugar and where the debate and actions to move the sugar agenda forward might go. The meeting followed three papers recently published by the FRC which cast light on the sugar problem: one on food taxes generally, another on sugar and Fairtrade, and a third on sugar and the environment.
The need to reduce sugar consumption is now widely accepted, and Public Health England have recently endorsed the need for a 10-20% tax on sugary drinks to help achieve this. Although the consequent reduction in global demand for sugar has implications for growers and processors, participants noted that the tobacco experience suggests a more gradual reduction in demand in practice, which allows natural wastage.There is also no reason why the production of healthy food in the UK should entail the use of less labour than the production of unhealthy food. However more research on how to sustainably restructure industry out of sugar and on the economic case for sugar transition was called for.
There was general support for a 20% sugary drinks tax as part of a broader strategy to reduce sugar and achieve healthier diets and a recognition that the threat of such a tax may also encourage reformulation, the preferred action of “Big Food”. A change in food culture away from the high consumption of such sweetened ultra-processed manufactured food is however required as a longer term solution. A greater consensus on the use of lower sugar /alternative sweetened drinks in place of sugary drinks was called for.
FRC will publish in the New Year a further report drawing on some of the discussions had at this meeting on how to move the sugar agenda sustainably forward.