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Explained: Why does ISMA want Indians to eat more sugar, alleges a 'propaganda against sugar'?

Khristina Jacob
·4-min read

Sugar to India is as ancient as Yoga and Ayurveda itself. It firmly occupies the position of being one of the 'panchamrits' or nectars of life, says ISMA.

These days, there is a lot of negative propaganda against sugar.

Much baseless and unsubstantiated information is floating around about sugar. There is absolutely no scientific evidence or any research paper which concludes or establishes that consumption of sugar in itself leads to any particular disease, even like diabetes or dental caries.

To “counter” these allegations, the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), has launched its knowledge portal 'meetha.org'. The portal, the first-of-its-kind in the country, seeks to be a source of complete information on sugar to the consumer.

How is sugar made?

Where does India stand?

According to ISMA, the per capita sugar consumption in India of only 19 kilos per person per year, is much lower than the world average of 23 kilos.

Developed countries like USA, UK, Germany, France, Singapore, Russia, New Zealand, Australia etc. as also several developing countries like Brazil, Thailand etc. have a per capita consumption of 35 to 50 kilos per person per year.

The per capita consumption growth of sugar in India between 2000 and 2016 has been amongst the lowest in the world at around 1.25% per year, based on a simple average.

This is despite a very impressive increase in income per person in the same period in India, which should have increased the sugar consumption at a much greater rate.

‘Indian poor must not be deprived of sugar’

India is still a developing nation where a large population especially the poor consume sugar as an inexpensive and immediate source of energy. They can't and should not be deprived of their sugar, because of some unfounded and misleading campaigns against it, ISMA said.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), in January 2020, had undertaken a first of its kind survey on sugar intake in India, and concluded as follows:

• The intake of added sugar in metro cities in India was 19.5 grams per day, much lower to the level recommended by ICMR of 30 gram per day (WHO's recommendation is also much higher at 25 grams per day for a normal adult).

• The ICMR report suggests that women take around 20.2 grams of added sugar in a day while men's intake of added sugar is 18.7 grams per day

Mr. Sudhanshu Pandey, Secretary, Department of Food & PD, Government of India, said, There is negative perception around sugar which needs to be eliminated, since sugar has been part of our lives since times immemorial. Meetha.org is excellent and will spread correct and scientific based information to people. It will have doctors, nutritionists and other experts in their fields to provide their inputs on sugar subject, which will be helpful for us.’

'In my opinion, sugar is not harmful to people, excess of anything is harmful.'

Is there a catch?

According to a report in Economic Times: If per capita consumption rises to the global average, domestic demand will climb by 5.2 million tons a year, according to Sudhanshu Pandey, the top bureaucrat at the food ministry. That would slash the surplus, cut overseas sales and save the government money by reducing export subsidies.

India, also the world’s second-biggest producer of sugar, exported a record 5.65 million tons in 2019-20, with the help of these subsidies, which are opposed by Australia, Brazil and Guatemala. Mills are aiming to ship 6 million tons in 2020-21 with production expected to rise 13% after good rains boosted planting.

He also said sugarcane arrears are lower and mills should be able clear it fast this year.

Industry experts are of the view that India needs to export more than 5 million tonnes of sugar this year to ensure domestic rates do not fall below the cost of production and make it difficult for mills to pay cane growers on time.

The surplus stock situation is expected to continue this season as well because domestic sugar production is pegged at 31 million tonne, well above the annual demand of 26 million tonne.

So, what is the hullabaloo about sugar?

The link between sugar and bad health is a known fact, but new studies continue to confirm that added sugars are the biggest causes diabetes and obesity. Sugar is also linked to the top two killers, heart disease and cancer.

(With inputs from news wires)