Pretoria News

Study obe­sity, su­gar in­dus­try urges

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SOUTH Africa’s su­gar in­dus­try has called for a study on what causes obe­sity in a bid to stave off the pro­posed tax on sug­ary drinks, say­ing if the levy was im­posed the in­dus­try would col­lapse.

At a me­dia brief­ing in Dur­ban yes­ter­day, South African Su­gar As­so­ci­a­tion chair­man, Rolf Lütge, said if the su­gar tax was im­posed next year as mooted by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han in his Bud­get speech ear­lier this year, at least 170 000 less tons of su­gar would be re­quired in the do­mes­tic mar­ket.

The su­gar would then have to be ex­ported at a re­duced price re­sult­ing in lo­cal mills shut­ting down, fewer farm­ers pro­duc­ing the crop and mas­sive job losses, he said.

Lütge was un­able to project job losses in the in­dus­try, but said cur­rently about a mil­lion peo­ple de­pended on the pro­duc­tion of su­gar for their liveli­hoods. The su­gar tax would deal a “fa­tal” blow to strug­gling and mainly ru­ral farm­ers and threaten the sus­tain­abil­ity of su­gar mills in both KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

Due to the per­sis­tent drought and the re­duc­tion of land un­der pro­duc­tion, land re­form which re­sulted in the col­lapse of many su­gar cane farms and farm­ers choos­ing to di­ver­sify their op­er­a­tions be­cause of shrink­ing profit mar­gins, two out of five mills in KwaZulu-Natal re­mained shut this sea­son, he said.

But sports sci­en­tist Pro­fes­sor Tim Noakes, who blew the whis­tle on the neg­a­tive health im­pacts of a low fat, high su­gar diet when he re­leased his con­tro­ver­sial Real Meal Revo­lu­tion diet two years ago, said the call for re­search by the as­so­ci­a­tion was a stalling tac­tic.

“We don’t need any more re­search. It’s proven that su­gar is ad­dic­tive. Su­gar is in all pro­cessed food, not only sug­ary drinks. Su­gar is to blame be­cause it makes you look for more and more su­gar which is in the pro­cessed food, mak­ing us eat more. That’s what causes obe­sity.”

Noakes said the gov­ern­ment should tar­get the pro­cessed food in­dus­try rather than just a tax on sug­ary drinks. “But that would cre­ate an in­dus­try re­volt. So in some ways this su­gar tax is a cop out.”

Lütge said dis­cus­sions on us­ing su­gar cane for elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion had also stalled. “The gov­ern­ment has baulked at the cost. They are pre­pared to pay R1.40 a kilo­watt hour for en­ergy from our mills, whereas we be­lieve we need R1.84 to cover our costs.

“We need close to R1 bil­lion to up­grade our mills for co-gen­er­a­tion,” he said. – Colleen Darda­gan

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