Advances in Food Security and Sustainability - Chapter 5: The Environmental, Social, and Market Sustainability of Sugar

Elsevier, Advances in Food Security and Sustainability, Volume 2, 2017, Pages 115-136
Tim Lang

Sugar has a long and troubled history, one that the United Kingdom cannot be proud of. Policies stretch from the encouragement of slavery to feed sugar plantations in the West Indies in the 1600s to the far more recent EU policy that has distorted domestic and world markets over time to the detriment of poor cane producers. A brief history of EU sugar policy is given in this chapter, and then the environmental, social, and market impacts of its production and trade are outlined. Sugar is no friend to the environment and yet it can support communities both at home in the United Kingdom and overseas in cane-producing nations. Many depend on it for work and for social support. But EU policies are changing and UK farmers may look to expand their output of sugar beet. Whether the social sustainability enjoyed by those employed in the sugar industry can be maintained in the long run under the pressures from expanding beet production, falling world prices, promotion of healthy diets, and development of sugar alternatives is questionable. If demand for a product that supports the livelihoods of many across the globe is set to fall, then our agenda perhaps needs to move to a review of options for the land and labor that are currently engrossed in producing this unhealthy crop.