The US sugar industry, in Rome this week, will continue its crusade against a recent report from the World Health Organisation that suggests a severe reduction in sugar could help stem the global rise of obesity-linked diseases.
When WHO released the report in March this year and advised people should get no more than 10 per cent of their calories from sugar, the sugar industry immediately raised its objections with then president and CEO Richard Keelor calling the report misguided and misleading. Denouncing the report's aim at sugar as unfair, Keelor said at the time: "The preponderance of the recent scientific evidence exonerating sugar (sucrose) as a causative factor in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity and dental caries has all but been ignored."
A few months on, the association remains determined to voice its strong opposition to WHO's Diet and Nutrition Report. New president and CEO Andrew Briscoe continues bearing the flame, stating this week: "We remain adamant that any scientific report that affects world health policies and global implementation strategies must be based on the preponderance of scientific evidence."
According to the association the response to date from WHO's Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland 'has not been acceptable'. One of the key points that niggles the sugar industry is the supposed lack of scientific evidence, on which the report was based. Charles W. Baker, chief science officer for the Sugar Association, and who presented scientific comments to WHO on the draft report in June 2002, commented in March: "The [WHO] report conflicts with conclusions of a number of other major expert committees with a broader emit to review all aspects of diet and health that have been reported in the last few years."
Echoing these words the sugar association said in a statement this week :"The WHO report is based on 11 scientific references - one of which is almost 30 years old. The blatant absences of the September 2002 release of the National Academy of Sciences' Dietary Reference Intakes Report and the 2001 publication of the USDA's Current Knowledge of the Health Effects of Sugar Intake causes WHO's credibility to be called into question when she continues to assert that the "best available science" was considered."
The association claims that it 'has received criticism from the World Health Organisation because of its position and aggressive response to the draft final report.' However, according to Briscoe, "criticism does not bother us. The Association's only interest is in fair reporting of the scientific facts as it relates to added (free) sugars."
According to the sugar crusaders the focus of the association's position revolves around four key points: the Advance Final Draft Copy is not based on the preponderance of science, the report has not undergone due process involving the WHO Executive Board endorsement - nor approval by the WHO World Health Assembly; there has been no external peer-review process to substantiate the "group of experts" consensus and finally, no analysis has been conducted 'to determine the economic impact to developing countries and the hardships this misguided report might bring to those nations.'
The association has requested time on the agenda at the May 29-30, 2003, WHO Executive Board meeting in Geneva to clarify its position.
While it is totally reasonable for the sugar industry to expect the report to be based on solid, recent evidence it is also clear that defensive words on the part of the sugar industry will do little to develop the crucial debate on obesity and carry it forward towards finding solutions. As we said at the time, 'until all parties concerned show a willingness to bring the debate to a higher moral level it is inevitable that the chronic diseases linked to poor dietary habits will continue to soar in both the developing and Western worlds.'