SA Canegrowers believe that improving health is holistic…

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on September 22, 2022, Daily misfit published a answer to my opinion on the health promotion levy (HPL), written by Mikateko Mafuyeka and Petronell Kruger. Given what is at stake in this political debate, namely the survival of a million livelihoods dependent on the sugar industry, some of the more problematic arguments in her response cannot go unanswered.

It is worth reminding us that the government’s stated purpose for introducing the HPL is to reduce obesity and related diseases. SA Canegrowers does not dispute the claim that HPL could very well have led to a reduction in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

But the unanswered question is, has this led to a decrease in obesity? The research linked by the authors also indicates that focusing on the consumption of certain products cannot provide an accurate picture overall: “…For the population studied, addressing individual components of diet in isolation may not be sufficient to improve overall diet quality and associated health outcomes like obesity”.

This is the crux of SA Canegrowers’ argument against the HPL. Improving health outcomes in South Africa – and elsewhere – requires a holistic approach to the causes of obesity, including excess caloric intake, nutritional poverty, high-carbohydrate diets, physical inactivity, psychological factors and underlying medical conditions.

In contrast to the sugar industry, which scapegoats HPL, HPL advocates have used sugar as a scapegoat for the many social issues, including poverty and inequality, that limit South Africans’ access to a balanced, nutritious diet. Raising the tax and extending it to fruit juices and other sugar products is a lazy and destructive approach to a complex problem.

In response to this argument, the authors point to the tobacco industry’s tactic of using fraudulent contract studies. But that is not applicable in this situation for two reasons.

First, SA Canegrowers has primarily referred to research into the economic impact of HPL. The Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy is a respected body that has not made any medical or health claims about HPL in its modeling for SA Canegrowers. What they have presented is an analysis of their profoundly negative economic impact, and this has been corroborated by separate research commissioned by the National Economic Development and Labor Council.

More importantly, we can understand the authors’ distrust of industry-funded research just as we would be skeptical of the biases of pro-HPL researchers. For this reason, SA Canegrowers has continually urged the government, as a neutral arbiter, to conduct research into the effectiveness of the HPL. We have also called on the Department of Health to undertake a national study of dietary intake to provide a holistic picture of the causes of obesity in South Africa, rather than inappropriately single out sugar-sweetened beverages.

The health promotion tax has been in place since 2018. Valuable time has been lost in which we should have done this important work. In addition, the Sugarcane Value Chain Masterplan includes a tax policy review, based on which we have repeatedly requested that the necessary investigations be conducted. Unfortunately, this has still not happened. But by suspending the HPL, we can buy ourselves the time to do this crucial groundwork.

There may well be “few policies that are good for business, good for health, and good for government,” as the authors noted.

However, SA Canegrowers believes that if there is a will to work together, we can develop just such a policy. The Association has successfully worked with government and industry representatives to create and implement the Sugarcane Value Chain Master Plan, and we can do so again to address the country’s public health challenges. Industry indeed plays a vital role as making a living is central to well-being and the sugar industry supports a million livelihoods currently at risk due to HPL.


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The authors accuse the industry of two other allegations that cannot go unchallenged.

The idea of ​​the sugar industry “subsidizing its internal fraud” is outrageous and an insult to growers, farm workers and other industry participants across the industry value chain who work hard every day to put food on the table and opportunities for other South Africans to accomplish . Citing an example of suspected fraud involving people associated with a miller cannot justify the burden on the entire industry and shows no regard for the real people who are facing the devastating consequences of this policy.

It is also important to note that the failure of the biofuel transition cannot be blamed on South African sugar cane farmers. SA Canegrowers in particular was very successful active He is urging progress in this regard, working with international organizations to demonstrate the feasibility of this exciting opportunity for the country and also chairs the Master Plan Working Team tasked with advancing this issue.

In order to allow this industry to grow sustainably, we must not take any shortcuts. We need to lay the groundwork, including conducting rigorous feasibility studies. This work is underway and few stakeholders are more committed than industry to seeing it through to completion.

In the meantime, we are faced with the current reality of a low growth South African economy with high unemployment at a turbulent time in the global economy. Pro-HPL lobbyists can ignore the research if they choose, but that doesn’t change the fact that the HPL, if maintained, will cost more than 21,000 jobs over the next 10 years – on top of the 16,000 already lost. Increasing the HPL will have even more disastrous consequences for South African workers in rural economies who can least afford to shed jobs.

Adding to the tragedy of this conflict is the realization that health advocates and industry need not be adversaries. For its part, SA Canegrowers stands by the call it has always made: that all stakeholders affected by the HPL work together to develop a holistic, economically viable, evidence-based approach to ensuring the health of all South Africans. DM

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