Washington Insider -- Thursday

Another Study Looks at Sugar and Health

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

China Buyers of US DDGs Back Away Amid Investigation Fears

Chinese importers of US dried distillers grains (DDGs) have halted purchases of the corn alternative from the US as fears are growing that an antidumping investigation could unfold, according to Reuters.

Those probe fears were no doubt sparked by talk that Chinese ethanol companies had submitted an antidumping investigation request to China’s Commerce Ministry last week. Reuters said their attempts to get confirmation from the ministry brought no response.

China in 2010 launched an antidumping investigation into US DDGs and extended the probe before dropping it in the middle of 2012, the report noted, a situation which led to a slowdown in imports of US DDGs at the time.

Also adding to the speculation on an investigation is a recent article published in the China Farmers Daily, by an official with China’s Alcohol Industry Association. “We advise authorities to take measures to control imports of dried distiller’s grains from the United States,” Zhang Guohong said in the article, adding that higher import duties, import quotas or more vigorous checks into unapproved GMO corn content in DDGS shipments were needed.

The 5.41 million metric tons of US DDGs imported by China in 2014 was equal to about 18 million metric tons of corn, Zhang noted.

While physical imports of US DDGs by China have remained hefty, those are sales booked earlier this summer. Contacts had been signaling for weeks that their new purchases of US DDGs had been falling rapidly and the threat of an investigation into the shipments certainly would be one explanation or at least a contributing factor. In addition, China has stepped up purchases of non-corn feedgrains which also would compete against DDGs in their domestic feed market. China’s purchases of US sorghum have been hefty with their purchases barley likely coming mostly from Australia as there are currently no sales of US barley to China recorded in USDA’s export sales reporting system.

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Washington Insider: Another Study Looks at Sugar and Health

There has been an unusual spate of food advice this summer, along with huge arguments about its validity how it should be interpreted. And, as you might suspect, the flood of new findings seems to be getting harder to understand. For example, this week, the international Agency for Research on Cancer, a research division of the UN’s World Health Organization announced that bacon, sausage and other processed meats cause small increases in cancers and that red meat probably does, too. Consumers are struggling to understand implications of warnings of such small risks.

Later in the week, the Wall Street Journal reported that researchers had found new evidence linking sugar consumption with conditions that can lead to diabetes and heart disease in children. At this point, the study seems likely to have more impact than most because it was designed to isolate the effect of added sugar in particular, as opposed to overall calories.

The Journal says that researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, and Touro University California took soda, pastries, sugary cereals and other foods and beverages sweetened with added sugar away from 43 Latino and African-American children and teens for nine days. They replaced those foods with pizza, baked potato chips, and other starchy processed foods.

The children observed were patients at a UCSF obesity clinic who had symptoms of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions such as high cholesterol that can lead to diabetes. The researchers cut sugar in their diets to 10% of overall calories from 28%.

Despite the short duration of the observation period and a diet still heavy on processed food, the researchers claimed striking results. The children’s cholesterol and other lipid levels improved, and their insulin levels dropped, they said.

“We reversed virtually every aspect of their metabolic syndrome,” said Robert Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and lead author of the paper, published in the journal Obesity. Of note, he said, triglycerides, high levels of which can contribute to a hardening of the artery walls and cause acute pancreatitis, showed a “very, very large improvement.”

The results tend to support Dr. Lustig’s conviction that sugar, especially fructose, one of its components, “stands out as a culprit in the obesity epidemic.” Added sugar consumption causes metabolic problems in the liver, interfering with the normal mechanisms that keep people from overeating, he asserts.

As might be expected, his theories about sugar metabolism are rejected by food and beverage makers, among others, who contend that obesity is the result of excess calories overall and too little exercise, and that sugar should not be singled out.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food and beverage companies, questioned the study’s size and said because it focused on individuals with metabolic disorders; it is “irresponsible” to generalize results to the US population.

Other researchers praised the study, but also called for additional research and the use of a control group. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, said “because of the study’s design, we can’t be completely certain that the changes are fully attributable to changes in sugar intake. It’s possible that other aspects of the diet or lifestyle changed.”

Still, he called the work “an interesting and useful step forward in assessing the effects of added sugar in children.”

In the meantime, health authorities in the US and elsewhere are already targeting sugar, the WSJ reports. The WHO recommended in March that adults and children cut sugar to less than 10% of their daily caloric intake. In July the US FDA proposed that US nutrition labels list added sugar amounts and a recommended maximum daily sugar intake of 200 calories—40 fewer calories than a 20-ounce Coca-Cola, the Journal noted.

Perhaps in response, consumers seem to be cutting back, the Journal suggested. In a nine-country survey this summer by Euromonitor International, 41% of respondents said they looked for limited or no added sugar on food labels. In the US, 71% said they were concerned about the amount of sugar they consumed, according to a March survey by the International Food Information Council. US soda consumption has declined for 10 straight years.

So, amid alarms about the extent to which US diets reflect food fads and exotic foodie advice while ignoring scientific studies, we are beginning to see suggestions that people are reading labels and attempting to balance consumption with recommendations. Clearly, the results in San Francisco are far too modest to serve as anything beyond identification of an area that needs greater exploration, research that should be watched closely by the food industry as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.


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(GH/SK)