President Bush last week said he would bring sanctions against Khartoum, as the government-funded militias continue to attack civilians in the region, and called on the United Nations to take parallel action. The conflict, which began in February 2003, has caused between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths through violence and disease, according to the UN. The Sudanese government claims the figure is only 9,000 and denies support for the Arab Jamjaweed militia. Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington DC last week, ambassador John Ukec is reported to have claimed that 80 per cent of the world's gum arabic comes from Sudan. "I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this," he said. Gum arabic comes from the sap of the acacia tree and is used by the food and drinks industry as an ingredient to prevent sugar crystallization and the emulsification of fat. In particular, it is used in soft drinks to increase the fizziness. However any fears that the food industry will become tangled up in politics, as consumers grapple with conscience and a love of soft drinks, have been downplayed. According to ABC News, the US imported only 12 per cent of its gum arabic from Sudan ($6.2m), 54 per cent less than the previous year. Thirty-eight per cent hailed from Chad. Given reports of gum Arabic supply from Sudan being disrupted by the war since 2004, major companies will already have cast about for alternative supplies to avoid being caught short. Coca-Cola has said it does not source its gum arabic from Sudan.