Firms to reduce sugar content in packaged drinks
12g per 100ml cap is part of war against diabetes, but some experts feel bar could have been set higher
Seven big names in the beverage industry, including Coca-Cola and F&N Foods, have agreed to cap the sugar content in their drinks at 12 per cent.
By 2020, their pre-packaged drinks will contain no more than 12g of sugar - three teaspoons - for every 100ml, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday.
The other five companies are PepsiCo, Nestle, Pokka, Yeo Hiap Seng and Malaysia Dairy Industries.
The seven make up 70 per cent of the pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverage industry in Singapore.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) told The New Paper that many companies are "actively reformulating" drinks to reduce sugar content to cater to rising demand for healthier options.
Its spokesman said: "The drinks manufacturers may choose to reformulate or withdraw the sales of these drinks from the Singapore market."
Sugar-sweetened drinks are a key area of focus in reducing sugar consumption among Singaporeans because 60 per cent of their total sugar intake comes from sugary beverages such as soft drinks, juices, coffee and tea, said MOH.
This is part of the ministry's efforts to keep diabetes at bay - a worry flagged by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who spoke about the issue during the National Day Rally last Sunday.
With the 12g cap, sugar consumption from these drinks could potentially go down by about 300,000kga year.
It will also pave the way for further collaborations between the Government and industry players to reduce sugar consumption here, said MOH, which is also studying measures used in other countries such as sugar tax, warning label and advertising restriction.
Some experts, however, feel the bar has been set too low since many sweetened drinks, such as those by Nestle and F&N Foods, already contain less than 12g of sugar per 100ml.
At 12g per 100 ml, a standard 330ml canned drink will contain almost 40g of sugar, close to HPB's recommended intake of 40g to 55g of added sugar a day.
Dietician Jaclyn Reutens of Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants told The Straits Times: "If Coke (which contains 10.6g per 100ml) is already at that level, let us challenge companies to reduce sugar further."
Nutritionist Fiona Chia told TNP that with the 12g cap, having a sweetened drink every day will be a "long-term chronic concern".
To maintain overall sugar consumption with the cap, the founder of nutrition consultancy Health Can Be Fun recommends having just one or two sweetened drinks a week.
"These are national steps to gradually reduce and create awareness. Individuals will still need to understand the sources of sugar and how to maintain their own sugar intake as well," she said.
But the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Chia Shi-Lu, pointed out: "We can always hope for a sharper drop, but we have to be realistic and practical...
"I would imagine that we can continue to press it; 6 per cent is achievable."
Mandating a drastic dip in sugar content could drive people to buy "contraband" drinks, the MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC added.
"It is quite a complex issue, and there is no perfect solution. This is a welcome and measured move on the part of the beverage companies.
"It is the first of many, and it will progress over the future. The war against diabetes is not something you can win immediately," he said.