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New Report Slams Government’s Attack On Sugar Industry

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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Claims that sugar represents the “new tobacco” are a myth according to a new study by the U.K.’s Institute of Economic Affairs.

The IEA report challenges the case for widespread government interference in consumer choices and slams a host of measures proposed by politicians and regulators including higher taxes and restricting the number of fast food outlets.

Authors Rob Lyons and Christopher Snowdon argue “government intervention in the market can only be justified if there is a market failure and if government action will make a positive difference.” Based on this, IEA finds the case for regulators and public health activists lacking.

One of the claims made for market failure in the food sector is that consumers do not have the right information or lack rationality when it comes to choosing food. Consumer information, however, is more abundant than ever and there is little evidence to suggest foods such as sugar are addictive and can substantially overwhelm consumers’ rationality.

The IEA authors cite a recent study that found that “there is currently insufficient scientific evidence to label any common food, ingredient, micronutrient, standard food additive or combination of ingredients as addictive.”

Health campaigners may decry the choices people are making at the grocery store, but according to IEA, there is no lack of alternative low-fat, low-calorie and and low-sugar options, including fruits and vegetables. The study found that “So-called ‘food deserts’ are almost non-existent. A wide range of fresh food is available within walking distance in almost all urban areas.”

The report claims government attempts to improve people’s health through greater regulation and taxation of certain foods are set to fall well short of their intended aims. One tactic to get consumers to make healthier choices is bans on new fast food restaurants like those seen in South Los Angeles.

Instead of cutting down people’s calories, IEA argue these kind of regulations will favor incumbent eateries, resulting “in higher prices and poorer quality.” According to IEA, one of the central problems confronting government officials who want to control eating habits is that people shouldn’t be forced to choose taste over health when they choose foods high in sugar.

“Health campaigners may believe that people should be maximising their longevity rather than optimising their taste buds, but in a free society that is not their decision to make,” writes Snowdon.

Another method to alter choices through government action recently won the support of the people of Berkeley, Calif. Berkeley made history as the first town in the U.S. to pass a soda tax through popular vote. But according to IEA, towns like Berkeley are wrong if they think these measures tackling sugar consumption will slash obesity and diabetes. (RELATED: Berkeley Soda Tax Supporters Hope New Cost Hits Consumers Hard)

The IEA study shows that in the U.K. both obesity and diabetes have gone up even though sugar consumption per capita has been falling since the 1970s. Brits now consume a fifth less sugar than in the 1970s at 40 kilograms per person per year. A soda tax, however, may lead to is low-income households paying more instead of altering their eating habits, says the report. (RELATED: CA Soda Tax Would Have Sour Results)

From the U.S. perspective Baylen Linnekin, executive director of Keep Food Legal, welcomed the findings and told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “This important new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs confirms what previous research and real-world experience has shown. Taxes on sugary drinks do not reduce obesity.”

“They disproportionately impact low-income consumers. They are intended only to hurt companies that market these drinks. These taxes are a terrible idea. Enough is enough. The charade is over. It’s time for public-health activists, lawmakers, and regulators who support these taxes to admit defeat and suggest real ways to deal with the real problem of obesity.”

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