Yet another reason to reduce sugar consumption: it could help fight climate change

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Sugarcane processing has a huge impact on the environment due to emissions, sewage runoff and solid waste produced by sugar mills. It also leads to loss of biodiversity when animal and plant habitat is destroyed to make way for the cultivation of sugar cane, according to the World Wildlife Fund website.

It is therefore logical that the reduction of sugar consumptionleading to the reduction of sugar production, would have positive impacts on the environment, according to a new study by the Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technologies of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), according to a ICTA-UAB press release.

A sugar factory in Louisiana. John Elk III/Getty Images

The study“Sugar Taxation for Climate and Sustainability Goals,” was published in the journal Natural durability.

“Massive amounts of plant material and sludge washed from the mills decompose in freshwater bodies, absorbing all available oxygen and leading to mass fish kills,” the World Wildlife Fund website said.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the possible benefits that reducing sugar consumption by converting land currently used to grow sugarcane to other uses could have on sustainability as well as on the climate. The researchers pointed to sugar taxation as one way to accomplish this reduction, according to the press release.

Study authors Lewis King and Jeroen van den Bergh, both of ICTA-UAB, looked at three different scenarios in their examination of land use currently used to grow sugar cane for different purposes. These include sugar beet crops in the EU being converted to ethanol production, sugar farmland in the EU being reforested and the EU exporting its surplus sugar while sugar cane sugar from Brazil is recycled from the sugar into ethanol.

Researchers found that reforestation would lead to lower emissions, and the reduction in emissions each year would be doubled by converting sugar beet crops to ethanol, and quadrupled by exporting surplus sugar from the EU. while Brazil is starting to use its sugar cane to produce ethanol instead of sugar.

“Land laid bare for sugarcane planting is stripped of any protective cover, allowing soils to dry out,” the World Wildlife Fund website said. “This impacts the overall diversity and mass of microorganisms, both of which are essential for fertility. Additionally, exposed topsoil is easily washed away from sloping land, with nutrients being leached from the topsoil. In addition, the continuous withdrawal of cane from the fields gradually reduces fertility and forces producers to resort more and more to fertilizers.

The study revealed that an agreement between the EU and Brazil in which the EU emphasized the production of sugar from sugar beets and Brazil emphasized the use of its cane sugar to produce ethanol would have the most beneficial environmental impact.

Researchers found that there would be minimal economic impact on farmers in Brazil and the EU, as using sugar cane to produce ethanol instead of sugar is known to be an economically viable option. viable in Brazil, according to the ICTA-UAB press release.

“This provides a clear example of how broad collaboration can help steer society in a more sustainable direction,” said Van den Bergh, who is a research professor at the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies in ICTA-UAB.

Policies to help society change behaviors, combined with education, have helped reduce tobacco consumption in the EU, and a similar strategy could be used to help reduce sugar consumption, the statement said. Press.

In countries like the UK, sugar taxation has proven politically popular and effective, so it could be a good tool to help achieve climate change goals.

Sugar taxation would also lead to the reduction of the sugary ingredient in beverages and other products. said ICTA-UAB researcher and lead author of the paper Lewis King in the press release. “Changing the way we use sugar crops presents an attractive strategy from this point of view, because sugar is arguably the least efficient crop to use as food, even aside from its negative health effects; moreover, it is the most efficient crop for biofuels from a net energy perspective.

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Rachel J. Bradford