Brazil moves to reduce sugar content in processed foods and beverages

Published: 11/21/2017, 2:21:24 PM

The Brazilian government is preparing a plan to reduce sugar content in beverages and processed foods, but the potential policy should have little effect to curb domestic demand or harm the local sugarcane industry, reports Sugaronline.

Brazil's federal government first announced its intention to develop the plan earlier this year. In August, Brazilian newspapers reported that Minister of Health Ricardo Barros was evaluating a potential increase in taxes on sodas and sugary beverages.

The press office of Brazil's Ministry of Health confirmed to Sugaronline that it is preparing a plan to reduce sugar content in processed foods. "This is a joint agenda with the food production sector, a voluntary agreement, and the goals are in the process of being negotiated with the productive sector," a Ministry of Health spokesperson said via email.

Brazil's food industry association ABIA, which is participating in the discussions to establish goals for the plan, told Sugaronline the sugar reduction targets will be defined after "deep technical analysis" during workshops with members of the industry and government. These workshops are scheduled to run through the first half of 2018.

"The role of sugars in the industry goes far beyond giving sweet taste to food and beverages: it fulfills technological functions that contribute to texture, volume, colour and preservation of food," ABIA said via email.

Fiscal policies are recommended within the World Health Organization's Plan of Action for the Prevention of Obesity in Children and Adolescents, of which Brazil is a signatory. The Ministry of Health said it will prepare a proposal to be presented to the federal government on this subject.

In May, Brazil became the first country to make commitments as part of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016-2025, agreeing to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages among adults by at least 30% by 2019.  The Ministry of Health said a regulation prohibiting marketing campaigns of ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods launched in July 2016 is part of its effort to incentivise reduction of sugar consumption.

Total sugar consumption in Brazil is currently at 10.25 million tonnes, and is expected to grow to 10.35 million tonnes in the 2018/19 season, according to analyst Fábio Meneghin of Brazilian consulting firm Agroconsult.

Sugar per capita consumption dropped to 48.7 kg this season from 56.9 kg per capita annually in 2010, driven down in part by economic crisis in the country, but it is still more than double the global average per capita consumption of 22.9 kg.

The change in diet habits of wealthier Brazilians has also had some impact on the total decrease of sugar consumption. But Meneghin doesn't see a trend of declining sugar consumption in Brazil's future.

"We estimate that in 20 years Brazil will reach per capita consumption close to 52 kg per capita annually, and a total consumption of 12 million tonnes of sugar," he said. This small growth is not unusual for a market already saturated, with one of the highest per capita consumption rates in the world.

Potential policies to reduce sugar consumption shouldn't be a concern for the cane industry, according to Meneghin. "An eventual setback for ethanol and RenovaBio program would affect (the industry much more)," he said.