The Devil’s Candy — Yes, There Is More

St. Ives

Childhood Obesity News has been reviewing the recent history of the substance formerly known as High Fructose Corn Syrup (fondly abbreviated to HFCS) and now going under a variety of different names.

Several years ago, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) started to gain momentum with the notion of calling their product “corn sugar” which is linguistically parallel to “cane sugar” and “beet sugar,” and incidentally sounds more benign than “high fructose corn syrup.” The Food and Drug Administration nixed the idea, but somehow it didn’t go away.

A bunch of non-corn sugar companies filed a lawsuit, accusing the CRA of false advertising and asking the court for an injunction to put a stop to that nonsense because the stuff made from corn isn’t really, you know, sugar. Meanwhile, many media stories painted HFCS as a childhood obesity villain and possibly the most dangerous food additive on the planet.

Barbara Stanley capsulizes some of the objections:

HFCS is cheaper to produce, allowing big corporations to undercut the prices given by cane sugar growers… [T]he molecular differences between HFCS and sugar are metabolized differently by the human body, causing health problems… Future generations may never know that gaining the extra 30 lbs. was with the aid of HFCS, contributing to their diabetes and other major health problems such as heart disease.

The Sugar Association put out a press release saying, among other things:

The advertising originally challenged by sugar farmers was aimed at convincing the public that HFCS is ‘natural’ despite the fact that it is produced with advanced technology that transforms corn starch at the molecular level; HFCS is really just a ‘corn sugar’ even though the FDA has long reserved that term for an entirely different sweetener with no fructose in it; and that ‘your body can’t tell the difference’ between HFCS and sugar, although numerous scientists have published research supporting the opposite conclusion.

On behalf of Mother Jones, Michael Mechanic responded:

The conglomerates sued back, claiming that Big Sugar is trying to infringe on their free speech. On the first two points above, the Sugar Association is essentially right: ‘Natural’ is widely and misleadingly employed as a marketing term, and HFCS is a very different product from, say, Karo corn syrup, which is mostly glucose. But as for its third point (which is more to the point here), there isn’t much evidence that HFCS is any worse for us than sugar… Scientists looking into the health effects of eating too much sugar treat them interchangeably.

It could be argued that scientists are not always right. Scientists sometimes, as the British say, get hold of the wrong end of the stick. If that were not so, the dispute would be settled already. Of course, in the minds of each side’s proponents, the issue has already been decided. It’s just that they have different concepts of what it is that has been settled. It really begins to look as if there are no good guys in this fight. What do you think — cane and beet sugar, or HFCS? Who holds the moral high ground?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Federal court to decide if corn syrup can be marketed as corn sugar,”, 03/21/12
Source: “Are High-Fructose Corn Syrup Makers in Denial?,” Mother Jones, 11/01/12
Image by helena.40proof (Helena).


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