Big Sugar: Sweet, White and Deadly
Brian McKenna (2005)
Big Sugar is about the sugar lobby and how they use their wealth and power to prevent the World Health Organization (WHO) and other regulatory agencies from dispensing accurate information about the link between high sugar intake and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
This Canadian documentary is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the links between sugar and slavery and the modern sugar barons have replaced the slaveholders who effectively controlled British foreign and domestic policy for 200 years. Part II is about the global obesity epidemic and efforts by WHO in 2005 to issue guidelines limiting daily sugar intake to 10% of total calories. The powerful sugar lobby defeated this initiative by employing many of the same techniques as the tobacco industry (and the climate denial industry). After attacking the science linking high sugar intake and obesity, they attacked the scientists themselves as biased fanatics. They then got them fired, demoted, and/or transferred. Under pressure from Big Sugar, both Bush administrations threatened to withhold the funding they owed WHO, and the pesky nutritionists who sought to warn people about the dangers of sugar magically vanished.
The documentary focuses on two of the most prominent slave holding families, as well a Canadian woman of African descent whose ancestors were owned by the Church of England and worked on a plantation in Barbados. The filmmakers liken these historical paragons to a modern day Cuban exile family in Florida called the Fanjuls. The latter donate generously to both major parties to make sure the US government continues to subsidize sugar production. The Fanjuls and other Florida sugar barons reap $1.5 billion in subsidies for $3.1 million in campaign contributions.
In addition to exposing the ecological devastation sugar cultivation has caused in the Florida Everglades, the filmmakers also visit the Fanjuls’ sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Despite the official abolition of slavery, working conditions on Dominican sugar plantations remain virtually unchanged. The Fanjuls lure Haitian immigrants across the border with a promise of paying work. Once their passports are confiscated, they become virtual slaves. Workers, who are paid $2 for a twelve hour day, experience chronic hunger and malnutrition. Forbidden to grow their own vegetables, they’re forced to rely on a company store that charges them three times the normal price for food. They have no access to medical care, and child labor is rife.