No magic bullet to tackle diabetes, more options needed to cut sugar intake: Food Industry Asia

Industry association Food Industry Asia has called for more measures, such as nutrition education, as part of Singapore's efforts to reduce sugar intake from beverages.
Industry association Food Industry Asia has called for more measures, such as nutrition education, as part of Singapore's efforts to reduce sugar intake from beverages.PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

SINGAPORE - Industry association Food Industry Asia (FIA) has called for more measures, such as nutrition education and incentives for developing healthier drinks, in Singapore's efforts to reduce sugar intake from beverages.

Its suggestion comes a day after the Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed four measures to cut down on consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as dry 3-in-1 mixes, cordials, yogurt drinks, fruit juices and soda drinks.

MOH is seeking the public's views on the proposals: a ban on pre-packed sugar-sweetened beverages; single or tiered taxes on the high-sugar drinks; mandatory front-of-pack labelling on sugar and nutrition content; and a ban on advertisements for such drinks on all platforms, including social media and buses.

In a statement on Wednesday (Dec 5), FIA said it "welcomes the MOH decision to hold a public consultation but believes more options need to be put on the table".

It suggested nutrition education and positive incentives similar to the Health Promotion Board's Healthier Ingredient Development Scheme, which offers companies monetary grants to encourage them to develop healthier sugar-sweetened beverages, oil and grain staples, sauces and desserts.

High sugar intake among people here is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes.

FIA's executive director Matthew Kovac said: "There is no magic bullet to tackle non-communicable diseases and many scientific studies have suggested that the effectiveness of sugar tax in reducing the consumption of SSBs may be limited."

He added: "The results in other countries that have implemented such taxes are still uncertain and we should not make decisions based on such ambiguity."

MOH said on Tuesday that a tax on manufacturers and importers of sugar-sweetened beverages could encourage the industry to reformulate their products.

 
 
 

In response, Mr Kovac said that many food companies in Singapore have already started reformulating their products to reduce sugar content, including seven major beverage companies that have pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in their drinks to 12g per 100ml or less by 2020.

These include soft drink giant Coca-Cola, a member of FIA, which said on Tuesday that taxes and advertising restrictions are not good solutions as there are other effective ways to reduce sugar intake.

The company is already taking steps such as offering smaller packages and providing more accessible nutrition information, on top of its commitment to reduce the sugar content of its drinks.

Mr Kovac also expressed scepticism about a total ban on pre-packed sugar-sweetened beverages. This would affect drinks that contain more than five and a half teaspoons of sugar per 250ml serving, including many soft drinks, energy drinks, juices and yogurt drinks.

"Consumption habits are hard to change and an outright ban on pre-packaged SSBs will not guarantee an overall fall in sugar intake as consumers may simply choose other foods that can satisfy their needs," he said.

On the proposal to make front-of-pack nutrition labels mandatory, Mr Kovac said: "It is important to ensure that we do not overwhelm consumers with multiple labelling schemes that might cause confusion."

FIA will continue to work with government bodies to develop and propose nutrition labels that are simple and easy to understand, he stressed.

Mr Kovac added that voluntary efforts to regulate advertising and marketing to children have already been undertaken by 14 companies in Singapore, a signal of the industry's commitment to promote healthier lifestyles.