The US government has issued new dietary guidelines, suggesting for the first time that consumers limit their consumption of added sweeteners at less than 10 per cent of a recommended daily intake of about 2,000 calories.
If it has its way, Americans will cut their consumption of sugar and corn syrup by more than two million tonnes a year, the latest blow for a sweetener industry facing an onslaught of criticism over negative health effects.
Currently, the average American consumes about 270 calories a day in the form of sweeteners, equal to about 13 per cent, the guidelines say.
With one teaspoon of sugar equal to approximately 15 calories, a reduction equivalent to more than 60 calories worth of added sugars, over 20 per cent fewer than the average American consumes today, would amount to some 2.2 million tonnes of primarily sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
That figure may be conservative.
The US Department of Agriculture estimates total national sweetener demand by food and beverage manufacturers at around 19 million tonnes.
On that basis, a reduction of a roughly 20 per cent drop in sugar calories consumed could amount to 3.7 million tonnes – small relative to worldwide use of over 186 million tonnes, but still more than enough to meet the entire needs of Egypt.
But many people, including health advocates, point out that few Americans are expected to follow the new guidelines.
Even the suggestion of such a significant decline is bad news for an industry engulfed in a “war on sugar” as health advocates blame sweeteners for a national obesity crisis.
And a deeper decline in demand from the one of the world’s top five users could weigh on global sugar prices that have fallen by half in five years.
That would be a major blow not just for soft drink companies and lolly makers, but for sugar and corn companies battling in an already competitive sweetener market.
Americans have been buying markedly less sugar amid the rising health worries.
While total demand for sweeteners is rising, per capita consumption is on the decline.
The Sugar Association, which represents sugar companies, criticised the guidelines, saying they were based on “weak science”.
The American Beverage Association also said reducing beverage calories is a “common goal,” noting its members have been cutting product sizes.
Even so, the move is expected to lay groundwork for the US government’s initiative to add more information on sugars on food labels.