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Food Research Collaboration Food Brexit Breifing: Sugar reduction in post-Brexit UK: A supply-side policy agenda

21 February 2019

Ben Richardson & Jack Winkler

How to Reduce Sugar Consumption? PRODUCE LESS!

* Cut sugar consumption by two-thirds

* Limit production and imports of sugar

* Raise the minimum price

* Target food manufacturers, not farmers or consumers  

* Create a "joined up" sugar policy

Read the full report 

Media coverage

Now, DEFRA is trying to raise production, PHE is trying to reduce consumption

The UK needs less and dearer sugar.  New calculations for this Briefing show that the country should reduce sugar consumption by at least two-thirds.  Reductions on this scale will not be achieved by edicts to cut the amount people eat.

The official dietary recommendation is that sugar should account for no more than 5% of daily calories, roughly 7 teaspoons.  Achieving this goal requires action on production as well as consumption.

Policymakers need to develop new policies on agriculture and trade, to cut supply as well as demand.  The UK needs to reduce how much sugar it grows and imports.

This paper proposes concrete measures to reduce the availability and raise the price of sugar -- targeting the  sugar-using industry rather than farmers or consumers. 

Brexit creates the opportunity to act.  The UK must legislate its own agriculture regime to replace the European Union's  "Common Agriculture Policy ".

Whitehall knows this full well.  DEFRA's current white paper "Health and Harmony" lists improving public health as one of its future goals.  Reducing sugar production is the perfect test of its good intentions. 

The goal can be achieved by initially re-establishing the long-standing quotas on UK sugar beet production and the price paid for it. 

Then, year-by-year, the quotas would be tightened and the wholesale price of sugar to large industrial buyers raised incrementally. 

Large food manufacturers are the principal targets for these two policies -- the 100+ companies that regularly buy 10,000 tonnes or more sugar every year. 

Farmers need not suffer from these proposals.  The support payments that beet growers currently receive could be used to help these same farmers grow healthier crops or develop local rural industries.

Consumers need not suffer either.  In any product, sugar is a relatively cheap commodity.  So the increased price would not even register on the weekly shopping bill.

Government itself would also benefit.  It had success with its soft drinks levy.   But imposing levies on the whole range of popular sweet products might not be so acceptable. Raising the price of sugar through agricultural policy would be a less visible, more politically acceptable route to follow.

More importantly, it would end the contradictions in current UK sugar policy.   At present, DEFRA is trying to raise the production of sugar, while Public Health England is trying to reduce its consumption.

Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and Chairman of Action on Sugar says:

"One of the more startling findings from this study is the blatant discord between DEFRA’s policy and Public Health England’s campaign for sugar reduction.

It’s imperative that a joined up sugar policy with consistent strategies for the UK is in place. With a major new report this week showing that teenagers and children in the UK are among the unhealthiest in the Western world, the goverment must act now.

Sugar not only lacks any nutritional value, but it contributes to excess calorie intake which leads to weight gain, raising the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and some cancers.”

The proposals in this paper would create a "joined up" sugar policy for the UK.



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