We warned Food Fight would be returning to the vexed subject of sugar in food but the fast changing situation in the UK means we’re revisiting it sooner than expected.
Within a couple of days of our last dispatch from the sugar bowl more initiatives hit the headlines. The big shock we reported was the decision by UK supermarkets to back laws intended to half the amount of sugar contained in the food they sell.
Well, just a day later, Public Health England – a government department – released a phone App called Sugar Smart. Simply open the App and point the phone camera at a product’s bar code to get a reading of its sugar content.
It’s simple but utterly empowering for consumers, particularly parents worried about the sucrose intake of their children. And we’ve no doubt more sophisticated, commercial versions will soon be available in the App Store.
We played around with Sugar Smart and weren’t at all surprised when it told us there were 72 cubes of sugar in a tin of treacle. More worrying was the 2.4 cubes in a small, 200gm, tin of Heinz baked beans. And a 1. 75 litre bottle of Coke had the sickly equivalent 46.4 cubes in the mix.
You get the idea. Knowledge is power and you might well imagine weight and health conscious ten year olds armed with the Sugar Smart App leading the charge down the aisles against sugar on the shelf.
At the same time as Sugar Smart was unveiled Prime Minister David Cameron who’d unilaterally dismissed calls for a sugar tax suddenly changed tack. I won’t rule anything out, he said, but I’d prefer not to have a tax.
This all adds up to a seismic change in the British attitude to sucrose. It must have left the big food processors who love the stuff – let’s call them the Sugar Tongs – reeling.
So what prompted the about face by the big supermarkets in the UK? Last week we speculated the supermarkets could see the writing on the wall for sugar. They had no choice but to reposition their strategy in the market place in the face of rapidly accelerating bandwagon against sugar. In hindsight we now believe they must have known Sugar Smart was about to go public and saw it as a major game changer. The writing was in the App.
The debate about a sugar tax still rages in the UK. It’s been tried around the world with mixed results. In several countries, including Denmark, it just seems to have pushed up food prices without significantly curbing sugar intake. However Mexico reported a 12% reduction in fizzy drink consumption in the first year after a sugar tax was introduced.
Here on the Food Fight column we think a tax might be beneficial – better than no action at all. But nowhere near as effective as laws regulating the amount of sugar that can be used in processed food in the first place. That’s what’s needed. Strict limits to the amount of sugar allowed in our processed foods.
The first and only previous UK tax on sugar was enshrined in the Sugar Act 1764, which helped fan the flames of the American Independence movement. But that Sugar Act was all about wealth and nothing at all to do with health.