The announcement by Tesco that it will cut the sugar content of its own-label soft drinks by 5% a year was rightly national news. Here was the purveyor of nigh on a third of the nation’s food openly promising a cut that will be barely noticed over time by consumers but will have a positive health impact. This makes public the strategy we call in policy “choice editing”, changing what the public consumes without it being too troubled. If implemented, it heralds the reduction of two teaspoons of sugar per cola can within four years, not to be sniffed at when obesity is seemingly out of control and soft drinks are such a significant factor. This is progress certainly, but not the big change needed; For that, we need industry-wide and national re-orientation involving new policies, firm regulation and tough reformulation standards plus a major cultural change in the consuming public.
New, firm, tough, and by the way, you, the public, you’re not worthy of us and you’re going to have to change too.
The Tesco decision reminds the new government that food and health is hot politics. Government would be ill-advised to see this as the “leave it to Tesco et al” strategy working, which has for too long been the default UK food policy loved by Labour and Tories alike, bowing before market logic, and reducing health to a companies and consumer dynamic. But not even mighty Tesco can sort out obesity. That would require a re-engineering of the entire food system which works hard to over-produce food, and flood markets with ever-cheaper salty, fatty, sugary non-food foods. We’d also need to build exercise into daily living, and curtail out of town supermarkets which can only be reached by gas-guzzling obesity-inducing car culture.
The reordering of society to the wishes of a monomaniac: sure looks fascist to me. It’s most certainly authoritarian, isn’t it?
Those of us active in this policy area (and I declare an interest as one of the “angry professors” who launched the “enough is enough” Action on Sugar campaign in January 2014),
Aka, yes, I know I’m a cunt.
Cola companies have been pushing sugar-free colas as their escape route from blame for decades, but these substitute high calorie sugar for artificial sweeteners, retaining consumers’ acceptance of sweetness as normal.
Can’t even get that right. The sweetners substitute for the sugar. And note the underlying demand there: you, you human beings, you like sweet stuff! Don’t! Because I say so! And, of course, I get to tell you so!
Tastebuds haven’t changed. The nightmare for Tesco would be if consumers simply switch brands, go to other supermarkets or even demand “bring back our sugary cokes” – hence the slow “below the radar” proposed changes. The public health case is simple: what’s needed is a population-wide shift, the gradual reduction of all sugars for everybody, and a reversal of the gradual sweetening of the world’s diet experienced over recent decades. Sugar is put into a vast range of food and drinks today, as is salt. Hence these two ingredients being targeted by public health advocates. They symbolise the world’s uptake of ever more processed, factory-made, instant satisfaction non-food foods and snacks, and the rise of the “permanently eating” culture among those populations who have access and can afford such products.
This is a war on modernity, isn’t it? First time the population has had enough food to be able to eat whatever whenever and we’ve some idiot standing on the tracks of progress shouting “Stop!”.
For government, the big problem is that sugar is but one strand of a UK food policy which has been fraying for years. The last Labour government received its wake-up call during the 2007-08 banking and commodity crisis, when global raw food prices doubled in months, as did oil, on which the much vaunted success of 20th century food policy depends. Oil = fertilisers + agrichemicals + petrol = labour reduction = cheaper mass food.
We don’t make fertilisers from oil, fuckwit. And that food price rise was because of biodiesel and corn ethanol.
What colour footie bags are these people going to march in?