MEP sounds isoglucose health warning as EU quotas end

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

MEP sounds isoglucose health warning as EU quotas end

Related tags Sugar High-fructose corn syrup European union

At the end of the month, the EU sugar regime will end, liberalising the market after nearly 50 years of production quotas. But one MEP is questioning whether the Commission has considered the impact on Europeans’ health as manufacturers switch to isoglucose.

Some studies suggest isoglucose production will triple between 2016 and 2025, and earlier this year, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness questioned the Commission​ on whether it had evaluated the health implications of abolishing quotas.

She told FoodNavigator: “I have concerns because at the end of this month, reforms of the European sugar market will impact EU sugar consumption […] and very likely mean an increase of isoglucose in the European diet. As with all types of sugar, isoglucose has been linked to a number of health concerns,”​ 

“As this sweetener is in liquid form and can be easily added to food and drinks, yoghurts etc., we will likely use it more and face the corresponding health impacts. [Yet] the Commission’s impact assessment of the reform of the sugar market did not include a health impact evaluation.

“As a legislator, I believe that we must understand the broader potential impact of our policies. This means comprehensive impact assessments. I would urge the Commission to complete an assessment on the possible ramifications for our health,” ​she added.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not conducted a safety evaluation of isoglucose but McGuinness cited an opinion on a 2011 health claim for fructose and the reduction of post-prandial glycaemic responses, in which the Authority found high fructose intakes – contributing to 25% of total energy - induce dyslipidaemia, insulin resistance and increased visceral adiposity in healthy individuals and in hyperinsulinaemic, insulin-resistant subjects.

Glucose-fructose syrup​ is a liquid sweetener used in the manufacturing of foods and beverages. It is composed of different sugars, mainly glucose and fructose, with varying compositions, with a fructose content ranging from 5 to 50%. If the fructose content exceeds 50%, the product becomes a fructose-glucose syrup.

In Europe, because of the ‘isomerisation’ process used in their production,  glucose-fructose syrups and fructose-glucose syrups with a fructose content of more than 10% are referred to as isoglucose.

In the United States, this type of product is produced from maize starch, most commonly either with a 42% or a 55% fructose content and is called high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Source: Starch Europe

Responding to McGuinness, commissioner for health and food safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said the EC was aware of the debate on how the sugar and sweeteners market might react to the abolition of quotas and of discussions on the health consequences of high intakes of fructose.

The European Parliament is currently funding a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence and policies on high fructose syrups and obesity and health, Andriukaitis said, with the results are expected at the end of 2017.

The Commission will continue to follow this issue and may discuss it again with member state representatives in the High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity in future,” ​he added.

Starch Europe: No causal effect

According to Starch Europe, the trade group that represents the interests of the European starch industry, however, there is no proven link between isoglucose and negative health effects.

“Scientific evidence confirms that there is no causal relationship between isoglucose consumption and obesity in humans and that the effect is no different from that of any other caloric sweetener. This is well-illustrated by the fact that isoglucose in the US has been declining since 1998, yet US obesity levels have continued to increase,” ​it said.

End of an era

The regime will end on 30 September 2017, bringing to an end caps on the production of sugar from beet and isoglucose that have been in place since 1968 and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In 2013, member states and MEPs agreed to abolish production quotas from the 2016/17 marketing year.

According to market research firm Stratégie Grains, European production of white sugar will rise by almost one third (31%) over the 2016 to 2021 period, while it prices will drop accordingly. The EU, currently a net importer of sugar, will became a net exporter.

Consumer clarity

While isoglucose is the agricultural term, EU legislation stipulates that the ingredient must be labelled as either glucose-fructose syrup or fructose-glucose syrup.

According to a survey commissioned by Cargill last year​, however, the type of sugar on ingredient lists concerns consumers less than the quantity used.

The amount of sugar and number of sugar types listed on the label was a bigger deciding factor in impacting purchasing intent rather than the actual type of sugar, although purchases appeared to decrease when both sugar and isoglucose were combined on the label.

The fact we distinguish all types of sugar in the ingredient list on the label seems to be confusing to consumers,” ​a spokesperson for the company said. “In Europe already much more information is provided on specific sugars and calories when you compare to other regions.”

Preparations under way

For a number of years, industry has been increasing capacity in anticipation of the deregulation. French sugar giant Tereos, the world’s fifth largest sugar producer, bought UK-based sugar distribution giant Napier Brown Sugar and announced plans to increase production by 20%.

In 2015, its director of strategic marketing and risk management, Alexandre Luneau, predicted the liberalisation would mean “a mega boom​”​for the sugar industry in Europe.

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