Friday, September 30, 2016

Declaring added sugar on the food label-A measure with far reaching benefits to consumers

Who is the villain in most of the packed foods marketed to day across the world? Sugar or Fat? During the last 5 decades consumers were brain washed to believe that it is the fat, especially the saturated version, that contributes to obesity and other modern diseases while sugar always got away due to reasons not known till recently. Only when the truth about manipulated research in sixties funded by sugar industry came out the real fact emerged. Sugar is definitely the most causative component in all diets and most people consume levels of sugar much beyond what is recommended by the health experts and nutritionists. It is interesting to know that an average American, typical victim of rampaging obesity that is prevalent in that country, consumes a whopping 135 gm of sugar per day which is more than double of what others in this blessed planet consume. Viewed against the current standard for sugar consumption which is not more than 50 gm per capita a day, one can guess what damage high levels of sugar do to the health of a normal consumer. What is shocking is the ground reality that is obtaining in most of the wealthy countries where sugar is omnipotent in its presence in more than 90% of the commercial foods whether it is really needed or not! Food and beverage industry seems to believe that sugar is an addictive substance like opioids that can hook on the consumer permanently without bothering to think about the devastating effect sugar has on human health. It looks like a substantial segment of food industry in general does not want any declaration about added sugar on the label for fear of adverse reaction from the consumer and its economic consequences. Recent moves by the US government to make it mandatory to declare added sugar have become a controversial policy issue and here is a take on that development  

"The new label might not look all that different, but it most certainly is. Among the many changes, which include larger type for the number of calories and servings per container, is a new line located just beneath "total sugars."It tells consumers exactly how much of the sugar was added by the manufacturer and what percentage of the daily recommended intake that added sugar comprises. The change addresses some of the early arguments waged by the sugar industry, which argued that having a line that says "sugars" and another that says "added sugars" would be confusing, because it wouldn't make clear that the latter is part of the first. The FDA addressed that problem by changing "sugars" to "total sugars" and adding "includes" to the "added sugars" line.  Still, the industry argued that the label puts added sugar in an unfairly negative light, vilifying even small amounts. "The Sugar Association is disappointed by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ruling to require an 'added sugars' declaration and daily reference value (DRV) on the Nutrition Facts Label (NFL)," the association said in a statement Friday morning. "The extraordinary contradictions and irregularities, as well as the lack of scientific justification in this rulemaking process are unprecedented for the FDA." Not all food organizations, however, agreed. Mars and Nestle have supported the measure. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade organization representing many large food and beverage companies, issued a statement calling the update "timely." Several health and nutrition groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, have issued statements expressing their support for the new label (CSPI, for its part, has been lobbying for them for almost two decades), which they say help inform people about the alarming prevalence of sugar in the American diet. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University and a longtime critic of the sugar industry, called the announcement an "extraordinary accomplishment" on her blog Food Politics and told The Washington Post that it "has to be scored as a huge win."

The new proposal for labeling added sugar serves two purpose. First the industry is likely to be more cautious in adding sugar in one and all products because sugar prices in the global market which is being manipulated to get at a ridiculously low price. It is a tragedy that sugar producing countries like Brazil, India and others export a great part of their production to countries like the US and depressed prices of sugar directly hits the livelihood of millions of farmers. Second by seeing the amount of sugar added in the serving size of the food product, consumers are likely to be more sensitive especially when they note how much is the recommended daily intake of sugar on the label. Earlier there was another controversy that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) was the culprit causing obesity and interestingly there was a sustained campaign a few years ago by this industry to brand HFCS as just corn sugar to mislead the consumer! Fortunately this did not succeed as the industry anticipated. Now that all added hexose sugars have been found to be harmful beyond 50 gm a day, it should not make any difference whether such sugars come from sugar cane, sugar beet or grains. India should emulate such good steps that can protect its citizens from the tragedy of being faced by people in wealthy countries. 

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