The end of EU sugar quotas on 1 October puts at risk recent efforts to crack down on obesity and sugar consumption, experts have warned.
Britain could be facing a “new era” of low sugar prices with the removal of the quota, which risks diminishing the effects of the incoming sugar levy as EU production ramps up, claims head of Investec’s commodities team Callum Macpherson.
Forecasts that the EU will be “broadly self-sufficient” in sugar over the October 2017 to September 2018 harvest season due to increased beet planting could “erode the significant premium” EU sugar currently holds over international sugar, he warns, the net effect being lower costs for manufacturers and consumers. International prices have already fallen.
The EU first introduced a production quota on sugar in 1968 alongside a support price for producers far higher than the world market price, in a move designed to guarantee producers a fair income and supply the market from its own production. However, member states agreed in 2013 to abolish the quota by this September as part of CAP reform to boost competition and allow producers to respond quicker to market signals.
“There has been no cross-benefit risk analysis for public health - it’s all to do with trade and agriculture,” says Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum.
But an alternative healthy sugar policy post-Brexit could “balance agriculture and health goals” by re-establishing production limits on beet and isoglucose, while imposing high minimum prices for both, says Jack Winkler, professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University.
“This is compatible with Defra’s role of supporting UK agriculture - if quotas and prices were set at appropriate levels, sugar beet farmers would make more money while producing less sugar.”
Public Health England (PHE) chief nutritionist Dr Alison Tedstone adds: “Whether sugar costs pennies or pounds, the food industry knows the government target on how much they need to reduce from its products and by when.”
PHE was “monitoring industry progress against these targets”, and was readying a report on it for spring 2018, she says. “The fact remains that children eat too much sugar and it causes weight gain, which can lead to bullying and low self-esteem and tooth decay. If the food industry is about to save money on sugar, it will hopefully make more resource available for research into innovative ways to make products healthier.”