Sugar Industry Tactics Reprise Tobacco’s

October 15, 2013 in Foodland Chronicles, Nutritionism by Joyce Bunderson

On September 11, 2013 Credit Suisse published a report on the impact of global sugar consumption. You can read a quick summary of their report done by WorldNow and ABC. Because I’ve already written so much about the use of sugar I’m not going to spend much time about the nutritional aspects of sugar intake. Suffice it to say a little sugar is fine; a small amount of sugar, less than 100 calories (2 tablespoons) a day for women and 150 calories (about 3 tablespoons) a day for men is a realistic goal. Allowing ourselves a little sugar does not change the fact that sugar is empty calories – it does not nourish us and excess harms us. Katherine Rich, from the food industry has published in Food Navigator a rebuttal article; Everyone’s a food expert – even when they get the facts so badly wrong.

Rich’s attempt to correct the interpretation of some statistics, and makes some claims against the Credit Suisse report that are at least partially true, but she is also presenting a biased view, and her own brand of propaganda. I feel confident that Rich would have never attacked Credit Suisse, if they had erroneously asserted that the food industry is rightly assisting the population of earth to be healthy by advertising and serving up foods and drinks that are liberally loaded with sugar. I do not appreciate her ad-hominem argument against Credit Suisse on the basis of them being a bank, with presumably no expertise in nutrition nor the right to claim thought leadership. I do not appreciate her implicit assumption of this title, despite her conflict of interest. Of course this line of argument would assume vested-interest corporate CEO’s in the food industry are not biased either, and could presumably be acceptable thought leaders and worthy to serve on the councils of nations, like our own FDA, as they so often do. I’m not going to spend my time arguing the plethora of evidence that excessive sugar is causing we humans big problems. But I do want to point out that Rich’s attack from her food-industry position of so-called thought leader is not a new tactic. It’s been used before. The tobacco industry carefully paved the way decades ago. The sugar industry can and in many ways besides this example is using the same tactics. Some of the areas she claims are not proven, like the lack of satiety and harmful effects of sugary drinks, are increasingly well supported. Big tobacco fought off the slowly accumulating research for many decades by this process of denial and claims of “unproven” propositions long past the time when they were in doubt.

One of the arguments used by Katherine Rich about how harmful it would be to deny people, sweet treats (a red herring Credit Suisse did not recommend) provided a time travel trip back almost 30 years ago to a time when Big Tobacco was the one promoting the Big Lies. I was in Great Britain; touring England and Scotland. One of our dear friends, who lived in Scotland, was explaining to me why it was so important not to severely tax cigarettes or to have too many negative notices against cigarettes. In essence, the argument went like this: Poor people have so few pleasures; those in power should not try to inhibit their pleasures in any way.

I was fairly poor when I was a young girl. My father was a smoker; I had lung problems, possibly linked to the smoke. That’s all, of course, far in the past. What is not past is the thought that the long ugly fight to bring forward the hideous nature of the chemicals in cigarettes, prolonged doubt about the perilous nature of tobacco use. Now, of course, we are no longer fighting the battle of whether cigarette smoking causes vast harm. But the fact is that my father may have not died a very difficult death at 65 years of age. And unnumbered others, who suffered and died at an even earlier age may not have lost those years and their health.

Certainly, it seems so clear to me, that those who are not educated, nor informed, or are just poor shouldn’t have a special dispensation of freedom from disquieting information about the health and life-span costs of tobacco.  Why should we smile with condescending tolerance at their deadly addictions because it gives them some scant pleasure, yet permit them to remain in ignorance, doomed to suffer the outcome of high risk behavior? Those who are in a position to help, have an obligation to do their very best to help all, to learn the facts.

Certainly Rich’s article is an example of trying to help the sugar industry keep its revenues flowing. They’re trying to muddy up the vision that we need to slow down on – not stop -- sugar intake. They are doing it in the name of self-proclaimed superior knowledge, which is at best a muddle of half-truths and outright lies -- PR dollar-backed propaganda. They are doing it in defense of corporate profits, not of the truth. It’s not a new story, but it will always be a repulsive one, no matter how often we see it repeated.