Sugar Should No Longer Be A Controlled Item Under The Price Control And Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 — Azrul Mohd Khalib

Malaysia must be one of the few countries that places price controls on sugar and then provides subsidies or incentives to sugar manufacturers to help recover their costs.

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy joins deputy health minister Lukanisman Awang Sauni’s recent call for increased attention and commitment to prevent and reduce the spread of diabetes in Malaysia.

As such, the Galen Centre calls for the removal of sugar as a gazetted item under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 to bolster preventive health efforts and harmonise policies which directly impact the wellbeing of Malaysians.

Malaysia currently has one of the lowest sugar prices in the world. They are lower than those in sugar-producing countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

This is not something to be proud of. It has a direct implication on the continued and uncontrolled spread of diabetes in this country, causing cardio-renal-metabolic diseases such as chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, which bring about premature death.

Our love for food combined with a largely sedentary lifestyle is extremely harmful. Seven million Malaysian adults aged 18 years and above are estimated to be living with diabetes by 2025.

The rate of diabetes is among the highest in the world. More than five million or 16 per cent of the adult population are living with a chronic kidney disease, many of whom are also diabetic.

Childhood diabetes is also on the rise. A third of children are overweight or obese and consume carbonated drinks. Obese children have approximately four times greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than those with a normal weight.

Price controls on sugar are a key enabling factor of excessive sugar consumption in our food. Artificially cheap sugar is driving higher sugar uptake.

Sugar prices in Malaysia are currently capped at RM2.85 per kg for coarse sugar and RM2.95 per kg for refined sugar. It has been that way since 2018.

Ironically, these prices are lower than neighbouring countries from whom Malaysia imports raw sugar. However, the operational cost to produce the retail sugar is actually around RM3.85.

As a result of price controls and despite the fact that sugar subsidies were abolished since October 2013, the government was forced to provide incentive payments or more accurately, subsidies to sugar manufacturers since November 2023 to the tune of RM1 per kilogram of sugar for raw sugar and refined sugar which translates to around RM42 million monthly and between RM500 million to RM600 million yearly. This should not have happened.

To address this problem, sugar should no longer be a controlled item. The government should either float or increase the ceiling price of sugar. 

It should certainly not be continuing to subsidise or provide incentive payments to sugar manufacturers to make up the difference between production cost and retail prices.

With the cost of raw materials increasing and our currency value fluctuating, this gap will continue to increase, leading to larger subsidies in the future. Malaysians need to wean themselves off this artificially cheap sugar.

Malaysia must be one of the few countries in the world that places price controls on sugar and then provides subsidies or incentives to sugar manufacturers to help recover their costs, enough to make significant profits.

It must be the only country in the world that does this, while at the same time, imposing a sugar-sweetened beverages tax. The policies do not make sense, are dysfunctional and harm Malaysians. They need to be changed.

Azrul Mohd Khalib is the chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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