Should food companies label the amount of added sugar in the goods they produce? Should Sweden have the same recommendations regarding sugar as the WHO? These are just a few of the questions that came up when a member of the Swedish parliament, Niclas Malmberg, hosted a breakfast meeting on the subject of sugar last Wednesday in the Parliament House. I was invited to give a presentation on a brochure called En liten broschyr om socker (in English: a small brochure about sugar).
Four members of the Swedish Parliament (representatives from four different political parties – MP, S, L and KD) were present at the breakfast meeting. Also, all of us in the picture above: Hans Göransson, Federal Chairman of the Swedish Association of Dentists, Inger Ros, Federal Chairman of the Swedish Association of the Heart-Lung Foundation, Thomas Magnusson, Chairman of the Diabetes Organization in Sweden (DiOS), yours truly, and Anders Dahlqvist, federal board member of the Swedish Medical Association.
Niclas Malmberg, who hosted the event, had also invited The Swedish Food Federation, one of whose representatives was the nutritionist Elisabeth Rytter.
During the meeting, the issue was raised of whether or not Sweden should have the same recommendations concerning sugar as the WHO, whose goal is the reduction of sugar consumption from its current state down to a healthy 5 percent of our daily caloric intake. Another suggestion put forward was that the law should require that the amount of added sugar in food products should be labeled . This is similar to what the FDA (U.S Food and Drug Administration) has suggested in the United States (see what I marked in red):
Elisabeth Rytter, from The Swedish Food Federation, offered the opinion that it should be sufficient for the National Food Agency to simply direct consumers to their website, where they could locate nutritional information, including how much sugar had been added to their food. At that point, however, a member of Parliament protested, saying that this was too complicated a process, and would only increase the health gaps in society.
Another point Elisabeth Rytter made against the labeling of added sugar was that the EU ultimately decides how all nutrition legislation should look, and that it’s difficult to change what the EU has decided. When I talked to Niclas Malmberg afterwards, he mentioned that the lawyers were in some disagreement. A few insisted that Sweden could introduce an added-sugar label without EU approval, others disagreed. Malmberg thought that the Swedish government should go ahead and test the limits of what it could accomplish on its own.
Personally, I think that The Swedish Food Federation should label amounts of added sugar voluntarily, as part of an effort to help consumers choose the right food. But I’m also aware that this would radically reduce the sale of certain products. How many people know, for instance, that a bag of jelly candy contains about 200 percent of the maximum daily intake of sugar for an adult human? Or that three tablespoons of teriyaki sauce on rice gives you about 40 percent of the maximum daily intake?
Niclas Malmberg has made several attempts to convince the Swedish Parliament to enforce better and more honest sugar labeling on food, and to add a tax on sugary soft drinks. They’ve all been voted down. But, as he told me, he’s stubborn, and so he’s not giving up. Go Niclas Malmberg!