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Sugar Low: Do Sweeteners Need to be Regulated?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page and our Appetite For a Change page.
A recent op-ed published in the journal Nature, by several scientists who are experts in their field, has the pundits all aflutter. But the subject is somewhat surprising: Sweeteners. (Nutrition professor Marion Nestle has posted the full PDF of the article here.)

Drs. Robert Lustig (a minor YouTube celebrity since his 2009 lecture on fructose), Laura Schmidt, and Claire Brindis argue that added sweeteners of all kinds - including sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and all their oddly-named ilk (that means you, maltodextrin!) - have as many negative health effects as alcohol and should be regulated.

Responses have come from all over the food politics spectrum - from Raj Patel in The Atlantic, who took to dreaming of a world where large corporations aren't in charge of feeding us, to Jennifer LaRue Huget on the Washington Post's Checkup blog, who just wants everyone to  get off her lawn leave such issues to personal responsibility.

Others have expressed scorn toward the group of scientists for addressing policy at all. This opinion can be summed up by a tweet from reporter Dan Mitchell that read, "Scientists need to set a much higher bar for proposing policy measures."

Now, I agree that policy expertise is its own animal. But when it comes to science-related policy - climate change, genetically engineered foods, water quality, and toxic substances, to name a few - I think policymakers could stand to pay a wee bit more attention to what scientists have to say.

Even so, my sense is that the true importance of this op-ed is getting lost in all the knee-jerk "to nanny or not to nanny" responses. You see, in their abstract, the scientists wrote, "Added sweeteners pose dangers to health that justify controlling them like alcohol." This no doubt takes the reader to an immediate and very particular place. I mean, are we talking about only serving sugar in bars? Needing a "sugar license"? Has the world gone mad?!


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