Unless you’re Coca-Cola, sugar is probably your worst enemy. The sneaky compound is responsible for all sorts of ailments, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—yet the average American consumes over 126 grams of it each day. But if it’s so damaging, why hasn’t the government stepped in?
Well, it tried. In the 1960’s, the U.S. government created the National Caries Program (NCP) in an attempt to eradicate tooth decay within the decade. As anyone who frequents the dentist’s office can attest, the simplest way to reduce tooth decay is to reduce the consumption of sugar. However, this never made the recommendation list. Why? Representatives from the sugar industry had permeated the subcommittees responsible for the research underlying the NCP guidelines. Instead, options like increased fluoride use were emphasized—not technically false, but excessively convoluted given the obvious choice.
In recent years, the most salient sugar-related battle concerns the addition of the “added sugars” category to the FDA’s nutrition facts labels. Taking effect by 2018, all labels will display the amount of sugar added during processing as well as the percentage of the recommended daily value. This is Coca-Cola’s, Nestle’s, and General Mills’ worst nightmare.
While the food industry is busy engineering another chemical disguised as a snack, the House Agriculture Committee is in a conundrum of its own. Last week’s hearing weighed the pros and cons of restricting the purchase of sweetened drinks for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. A USDA study revealed that these beverages were the second largest category of expenditures. Just one 20-ounce can of Coke has 65 grams of added sugar, coming in at 130% of the recommended daily intake, meaning that government money is allocated towards “food” with zero nutritional benefit.
Most witnesses who testified recommended against restrictions, citing the difficulty of categorizing the amalgam of sugary drinks and sweets in grocery markets. Others reminded the committee that these purchase patterns are not unique to households receiving SNAP benefits; they reflect general trends across America. However, AEI reminded the committee that SNAP funds are unable to be used for cigarettes, tobacco, or alcohol. Thus, it would not be a far cry to ban sodas and other highly processed, sugar-laden beverages from the program.
Unfortunately, even if these restrictions were enacted, SNAP participants would still be able to purchase sugar-laden beverages with personal cash. This is a nuanced example, but exemplifies how contentious the sugar industry really is. As the new FDA regulations begin to take effect, the food industry will certainly find a loophole to maintain its monopoly on American consumers—the fight is just getting started.