he sugar and the processed food industry and the cola companies form the axis of evil while health organizations lead the coalition of the willing.

Voices Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Anshul Rana, The battle lines have been drawn, the battle cries are being sung and America is all set to begin its next war on terror… oh sorry, sugar. Yes you read it right, the world’s oldest democracy has declared war on the terror unleashed by sugar. Now before you hide away your gulab jamuns, barfis and mysore pak from the impending drone attacks, fear not this one does not involve invading a country. This is completely domestic. The sugar and the processed food industry and the cola companies form the axis of evil while health organizations lead the coalition of the willing. Earlier this month the WHO released draft guidelines for daily sugar intake, which encourage people to take about 5% of their daily calories from sugar. Simply put for an adult with a normal diet (2000-2500 calories a day) it means 25 grams of sugar a day or 6 teaspoons. Yes, three cups of your lovely chai with two spoons of sugar and you have reached the limit. That makes a single can of regular coke a weapon of mass destruction containing a lethal dose of 200gms of sugar. The problem is not of small proportions. According to government data one of every three adults is obese with 17 percent of all children overweight. If obesity rates were somehow kept steady and not allowed to grow in the US, the country would still spend a mind boggling $150bn in treating conditions related to obesity. So this war like all other is all about money too. Though an all out war is some time away, skirmishes started several years back. The first bullet in this war for survival was fired way back in 2003 by the then New York mayor Michael Bloomberg who banned sugary soft drinks from vending machines in schools and public buildings. All this was over and above the city’s anti obesity initiatives like placing anti-sugared drink ads in the subway and required restaurants to post calorie counts on me. By 2006, the growing threat of guerrilla warfare from opponents using weapons like lawsuits and legislation, forced soft drink makers like Pepsi and Coke to remove their sweetened drinks from school cafeterias and vending machines across the country. A brief ceasefire ensued. But it was just a false sense of calm before a storm. 2012 saw the resumption of attacks from both sides. Mayor Bloomberg unleashed his now famous attempt to limit the sale of sugary beverages to about 500ml per cup in city restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas. On board this time leading the charge was nobody less than the first lady herself. Meanwhile Michelle Obama unveiled the new war plan, which would require companies to print calories in bold, with realistic serving sizes and added sugar amounts clearly visible to customers. With New York and Washington raking up the bravery medals in the war, the legendary martial races of California felt left out. So come November and the city of San Francisco will ask voters to decide if they support a tax on sweetened beverages with the collections going to health and nutrition programs. Berkley, California and Illinois are all considering taxes on sweetened beverages. Maryland and Los Angeles are thinking of imposing age restrictions for purchasing energy drinks like Red Bull. But the most lethal weapon has proven to be the CAL or class action lawsuit. In 2012 Californian, Katie Kane filed a class action lawsuit against Greek yogurt giant ‘Chobani’ for using the words ‘evaporated cane juice’ on the nutritional label instead of ‘dried sugar cane syrup’. The former she argued did not bring out the fact that it was sugar while the latter did. The courts and FDA both agreed. Now Trader Joes- a grocery chain- faces the same lawsuit filed by the same law firm but a different client. The same year Nutella- a chocolate and hazelnut spread- paid out $3.5mn in an out of court settlement because a California mother said that she mistakenly took Nutella to be a health food after watching the company’s advertisement on TV in which a mother feeds her kids the spread for breakfast. Clearly American children did not grow up with their parents telling them chocolate is bad for health/teeth like us. America has a long history with CAL grade weaponry. After being hit by several CALs for over a decade, tobacco companies settled for a $208bn payout over 25 years. In what is called the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (TMSA) the industry is paying for the healthcare costs all the states were burdened with as their citizens developed health problems linked to smoking. This settlement has not just affected the balance sheets but changed the industry fundamentally. The TMSA led to a comprehensive set of restrictions on advertising, lobbying, sponsorship etc. It also led to the creation of National Public Education Foundation dedicated to ending underage smoking. The impact CALs will have on the food industry is hard to imagine given that it is already carefully regulated by the FDA. But what does all this mean to you sitting in India? Nothing. We are only ‘healthy’ and from a well to do family if we have a paunch. Our favorite sweet shop does not believe in telling us what it puts into our daily dose of ‘meetha’ and the recipe is a family secret. But above all we are a peaceful people and we don’t believe in wars. Now can I have my jalebis please, extra sugary if I may? (Anshul Rana is a consultant at the World Bank and a research associate at John Hopkins university. He is obsessed by all things politics). The opinions expressed in this articles are the personal opinions of the author. The News Minute is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability or validity of any information in this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article do not reflect the views of The News Minute and The News Minute does not assume any liability on the same.
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