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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