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Brexit 'could help UK cut back on sugar'

UK sugar consumption is three times the government-recommended levels
21 February 2019 , Katie Coyne

Brexit could offer an opportunity to reduce the sugar consumption in the UK if the government uses it to reduce sugar supply, according to the Food Research Collaboration. 

UK sugar consumption is three times the government-recommended levels of around 5 per cent of total calorie intake. This can result in diet-related diseases and health problems. 

So far measures to reduce sugar consumption have focused on manufacturers and consumers. The authors of the report argue, however, that attention to sugar supply is also needed.  

The briefing, written by Dr Ben Richardson from Warwick University and Jack Winkler from London Metropolitan University, argues that the government should control the supply of sugar through agriculture and trade policy. 

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU will necessitate new regulations around sugar supply.

Richardson said: "Sugar supply in the UK has been governed by EU regulations on agriculture and trade. As a result of Brexit, new agricultural and trade policy in the UK will not only be possible but necessary. 

"Government needs to take this opportunity to restrict the supply of sugar to large manufacturers and instead support the provision of healthier food and drink."

The price of sugar within the EU is now at its lowest level ever recorded. Authors of the report argue that the EU agricultural and trade policies are increasingly focusing on the demands of the food industry and securing them access to cheaper sources of sugar.

Winkler said: "Currently, Defra is trying to raise the production of sugar, while Public Health England is trying to lower its consumption. We need a 'joined up' sugar policy. Adopting our proposals for new agriculture policies would create one."

Some of the suggestions within the briefing include: 

  • Encouraging large food and drink manufacturers to use less sugar in individual products and across their portfolio. 

  • Limiting the amount of sugar that can be sold within a given market.

  • Bringing back 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.

The briefing follows publication last week of a large-scale French study that has linked consumption of 'ultra-processed' foods with early deaths. Ultra-processed foods, made in factories with industrial ingredients and additives, tend to be high in sugar as well as salt and saturated fat. 

Published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, this report found that every 10 per cent increase in the consumption of ultra processed foods was associated with a 14 per cent greater risk of death. 

Dr Laure Schnabel from Paris-Sorbonne University, who led the study, said: "An increase in ultra-processed foods consumption appears to be associated with an overall higher mortality risk among this adult population."

The report followed 44,500 people over nine years.

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