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Sugar: Sweet for Some

‘A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down’, sang the angelic Julie Andrews to a pair of wide-eyed children in the movie Mary Poppins. Julie’s advice must have enthralled the sugar industry, and set the hearts of marketers everywhere fluttering. Children as consumers represent a massive global market, and spearheading capitalism’s drive for the minds and money of children is the sugar and related sweeteners industry. At stake is an estimated global market projected for 2017 at $97.2 billion. A large slice of the forthcoming profits will be pocketed by the Fanjul Brothers, owners of Fanjul Corp, ‘which in 2010 comprised four raw sugar mills and 10 refineries in six countries, making them the world's largest refiner of cane sugar, producing 6 million tons of sugar annually' (en.wikipedia.org/).

Perhaps even Mary Poppins would have baulked at administering 20 spoonfuls of sugar in one go, but not Sainsburys. Their Orange Energy Drink has, ‘5.9g per 100 ml of sugar – which is the equivalent of 20 teaspoons for every 500ml’. As ever there are reformers demanding activity. In February, Action on Sugar, ‘has called for the sale of ‘energy’ and sports drinks to youngsters to be banned. They also ‘warned that children were being duped into thinking that the products would boost their performance on the sports field or at school’ and that, ‘The products served no purpose whatsoever except to make children addicted to caffeine and habituated to sugars, it claimed, while in the longer term they were fuelling the obesity epidemic’ (theguardian.com/26 February).

Even doting parent and thoughtful Prime Minister David Cameron disclosed to Parliament how he was ‘trying to stop 'excessive' amounts of Coca-Cola being consumed in the Cameron household’ (Daily Mail.co.uk, 16 January, 2013). This admission, albeit two years later, seemed to resonate with Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Health Select Committee, when she confided to BuzzFeed News that she and her committee wanted to ask experts if it would, ‘work if we had a price differential between sugary carbonated drinks and unsugary ones, low sugar? So if you’re there at a supermarket shelf and one product is 10p cheaper than the other, would it help you to think – Well, I’ll go for the non-sugary one?’ Wollaston, a onetime GP, also posed an ideological question in a sugar-coated Mary Poppins-like way when she asked: ‘Are there ways we can take calories out of children’s diets in ways that doesn’t feel like a big nanny bossy state coming in with a big stick’ (3 February)? Something tells me that the naughty corporations aren’t going to have to take any nasty medicine, even from those who supposedly wield a big stick.

The Guardian reported that, ‘an investigation by the British Medical Journal revealed that health officials and ministers had 130 meetings with alcohol and supermarket lobbyists while they were considering imposing a minimum price per unit of alcohol. The proposal was dropped in July, allegedly because of a lack of concrete evidence’. Protecting corporate profits through political connections is nothing new. ‘In 1979, Margaret Thatcher set up the National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education, chaired by Professor Philip James, a powerhouse in the drive to improve diet. It produced a seminal report, suppressed until it was leaked in 1983, that warned the British diet was connected to the major diseases of our time. Its targets to reduce sugar, fat and salt were ignored’ (12 February, 2014).

And in the U.S Bloomberg’s reported that, ‘Hawaii lawmakers killed a proposed tax that would have added 17 cents to a single-serve bottle of soda. It was the second failed attempt, even though Governor Neil Abercrombie had pushed the proposed levy… PepsiCo Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and the American Beverage Association have spent as much as $70 million on lobbying and issuing ads… Efforts to enact such levies have foundered in 30 states’. Judith Phillips, a Mississippi State University research analyst who studied the issue for lawmakers,summed up how things generally work under capitalism: ‘Whoever is loudest tends to control the discussion and, generally speaking, you buy your microphone with money’ (13 March, 2012).

Addictive

Action on Sugar suggests that sugar could be addictive. Dr. David Reuben, author of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Nutrition agrees: ‘White refined sugar is not a food. It is a pure chemical extracted from plant sources, purer in fact than cocaine, which it resembles in many ways. Its true name is sucrose and its chemical formula is C12H22O11... The chemical formula for cocaine is C17H21NO4... For all practical purposes, the difference is that sugar is missing the ‘N’, or nitrogen atom... Through heating and mechanical and chemical processing, all vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, enzymes and indeed every nutrient is removed until only the sugar remains... During the refining process, 64 food elements are destroyed. All the potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, manganese, phosphate, and sulfate are removed. The A, D, and B, vitamins are destroyed. Amino acids, vital enzymes, unsaturated fats, and all fiber are gone. To a lesser or greater degree, all refined sweeteners such as corn syrup, maple syrup, etc., undergo similar destructive processes... Studies show that ‘sugar’ is just as habit-forming as any narcotic; and its use, misuse, and abuse is our nation’s number one disaster’ (macrobiotics.co.uk/ 3 March).

So too thinks Robert Lustig, the University of California’s professor of paediatrics who is, ‘well-known for his research into the effects of dietary sugar. He believes that sugar is addictive. In a recent interview he said: ‘There are five tastes on your tongue: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Sugar covers up the other four, so you can't taste the negative aspects of foods. You can make dog poop taste good with enough sugar’. Lustig goes on to reveal that, ‘table sugar known as sucrose, which is a made of two sugars (glucose and fructose) chemically bound to each other, is identical to high fructose corn syrup – which he describes as a chronic toxin’ (Independent, 4 October 2014).

Like the wolf eying the lambs, children are viewed as a primary target for the sugar industry. Spinning lies to them is accomplished by just a few multi-billion dollar advertising corporations. As Juliet Schor writes, ‘These corporations not only have enormous economic power, but their political influence has never been greater. They have funneled unprecedented sums of money to political parties and officials... The power wielded by these corporations is evident in many ways, from their ability to eliminate competitors to their ability to mobilize state power in their interest’. Straight from an arsehole’s mouth comes this truism: ‘No one’s really worrying about what it [advertising to children] is teaching impressionable youth. Hey, I’m in the business of convincing people to buy things they don’t need’  - an advertising executive, in Business Week, August 11, 1997, quoted by Richard Robbins’ (www.globalissues.org/article/237).

Enough is not enough

Advertisers are simply the unimaginative lackeys for an elite that includes people such as the Fanjul brothers. They’re fourth generation sugar capitalists. Their great grandfather was reportedly the wealthiest man in Cuba. Under Batista’s dictatorship life was uncomplicated for the family. The profits built off of the backs of their workers rolled in. Extravagant parties were thrown for other parasites like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but in 1958 Castro overthrew Batista’s dictatorship under the guise of socialism. The Fanjul’s sugar empire was seized and Castro now luxuriates in one of the family’s palatial mansions in Havana. Under capitalism the narrative repeats ad nauseam: The old king’s dead - long live the new king.

Palm Beach, Florida, welcomed the Fanjuls and their money which was quickly re-invested in land, plant and labour enabling a speedy return to capital accumulation. Hungry labour usually returns fatter profits so the Fanjul brothers were quick to exploit the US governments H-2 foreign worker programme, enabling, ‘the Fanjuls to bring in thousands of migrant workers, mostly from Jamaica, to cut their cane... Only the desperately poor cut cane and, without the farmworkers program, the Fanjuls may not have been able to harvest their fields. In the Fanjul fields, workers who did not cut fast enough were labeled ‘Code One’, which means 'refused to work – do not rehire’. Code One workers were sent home’.

In 1974, sugar prices rocketed and, inevitably, overproduction resulted. But, help was at hand for the kings of sugar: ‘The government rushed to their aid, and the current sugar program of government subsidies and price supports took hold. The government guaranteed to sugar farmers a price double that of the world market and placed quotas on sugar imports. Such a policy produces a windfall for the Fanjuls at the expense of American taxpayers’(eyeonmiami.blogspot.co.uk, 29 May, 2010).

For capitalists ‘enough’ doesn’t exist in their vocabulary. ‘According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2010), sugar is produced with forced labor in Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Myanmar (Burma) and Pakistan and with child labor in Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines and Uganda’.

How much medicine you, your children and grandchildren have to swallow from the Fanjuls and their class is up to you. Life couldn’t be sweeter for them - and it’s at your expense.

ANDY MATTHEWS