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Corn Syrup Lobby Courts Mommybloggers, Gets Spanked

Corn Syrup Lobby Courts Mommybloggers, Gets Spanked

High fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive sweetener made from highly processed corn that has become an almost ubiquitous ingredient in packaged processed foods, has been getting some bad press of late.

Some scientists and food experts, including the well-regarded sustainable food advocate Marion Nestle, have argued that high fructose corn syrup is really no worse, nutritionally speaking, than traditional refined table sugar, which is certainly no health food. But mounting evidence suggests that subtle chemical differences between the two sweetners might cause HFCS to affect the body differently than regular sugar, in potentially harmful ways. 

HCFS Links to Diabetes and Obesity

A 2007 Rutgers University study linked HFCS in soda to diabetes. There was the revelation in 2008 that some brands of HFCS contained traces of mercury. Then a Princeton study, published just this March, connected high fructose corn syrup consumption to obesity in rats.

As a result of all the bad publicity associated with these scientific findings, more than 50% of Americans now believe high fructose corn syrup may pose a health hazard. Sales of high fructose corn syrup have plummeted as manufacturers scramble to replace HFCS with familiar, old-fashioned table sugar.

So last month, the Corn Refiners Association, a trade organization that lobbies the U.S. government on behalf of corn processors, launched a campaign to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar.

The CRA issued a press release. They launched a corn sugar website. They contacted major media organizations. They sent a petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, lobbying the government to allow HFCS to be listed on food labels as corn sugar.

“Sweet” Talk for Mommybloggers

And, perhaps aware that American women control 85% of U.S. household spending, the Corn Refiners Association also reached out to mommybloggers.

Specifically, the CRA approached bloggers who write compensated product reviews for MomCentral, a targeted social media marketing organization whose clients include such corporate giants as Unilever, Bayer, and Procter and Gamble.

MomCentral, which encourages certain member bloggers to write product reviews on their own blogs in exchange for gifts and discounts, has run into controversy before for paid social media marketing campaigns that sometimes blur the line between honest review and paid advertisement. In fact, the pharmaceutical company Bayer recieved an official warning from the FDA over misleading social media marketing events it organized with MomCentral to promote the contraceptive device, Mirena.

For the Corn Refiners Association, MomCentral arranged a webinar for blogger members, where attendees were apparently treated to a CRA sponsored presentation of evidence that high fructose corn syrup, a.k.a. “corn sugar,” and traditional table sugar are nutritionally equivalent and affect the body in exactly the same way. The bloggers were then paid, with Walmart gift certificates, to write about what they had learned from the CRA.

A Marketing Ploy Backfires

If the Corn Refiners Association was expecting this ploy to result in a successful pro-corn-sugar viral marketing campaign that would spread like wildfire among unquestioning women bloggers eager to justify their children’s soda and candy habits, then the CRA drastically underestimated their target audience.

The blogger backlash against the CRA / MomCentral corn sugar marketing campaign was swift and severe. Prominent members of the parent blog community, including Mom-101′s Liz Gumbinner, Work It Mom’s Mir Kamin, and Christine Koh of Boston Mamas, came out strongly against the marketing campaign, calling the CRA messaging misleading and taking the bloggers who repeated CRA’s assertions uncritically to task for failing to do their own research on high fructose corn syrup to present more balanced reviews.       

Word of the controversy soon moved beyond the parenting blogosphere, as the corn syrup public relations dustup garnered attention at both Slashfood and BNET, where writers strongly criticized the CRA’s ham-handed outreach failure.

The Corn Refiners Association definitely generated some publicity for “corn sugar” with their parenting blogger outreach program — just not, I think, the sort their PR department intended.

Full disclosure: Jaelithe Judy has never been paid, in gift certificates or otherwise, by the Corn Refiners Association or MomCentral, but she is good friends with several parents who blog, and works with Liz Gumbinner and Mir Kamin at Cool Mom Picks.


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Photo by Sanjay Acharya. Used under Creative Commons license.

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87 comments

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12:37PM PST on Feb 9, 2011

conventional corn is not only high in pesticides, it is also, for the most part, genetically modified.

11:49AM PST on Dec 12, 2010

USE HONEY! (in moderate amounts)

It tastes better, it supports bees and beekeepers (who are responsible for pollinating 33% of our food crops!!!!), and it has mulitple health benefits, especially if the bees are feeding on wildflowers and native species like echinaea.

HFCS is made with conventional corn, which is raised with lots of pesticides. I don't want that in MY body, by whatever name you call it.

3:31PM PST on Nov 17, 2010

I've eliminated HFCS from my diet...I'll be watching for the renamed ingredient sneaking into foods not currently using it.

6:01PM PDT on Nov 5, 2010

My biggest complaint concerning HFCS is the large amount of tax-payer-funded government subsidies their industry receives that allows them to sell at such a low price.

1:30PM PDT on Nov 3, 2010

HFCS is bad to deadly as the NIH and AMA have all agreed. It's not corn or sugar per se, which in their natural forms are useful foods. It's the highly concentrated, high fructose corn syrup which is probably the #2 killer in America besides heart disease.

The pathology of it is very well-known to the medical community (industry-paid doctors notwithstanding): the mitochondria in your cells are fooled by the high concentrations of various sugars into thinking there's an oversupply of energy, and their natural metabolic functions are reduced. This leads ironically to low blood sugar and fatigue which cause you to consume MORE HFCS-treated drinks or snacks, which your pancreas has trouble dealing with, eventually becoming disfunctional and leading to Type II diabetes symptoms, even if you have no family history of it!

For young people it might not be noticeable at first, but if you are a soft drink addict like I was well into middle age you are quite likely slowly dying from it. I used to consume vast amounts of soda pop and wondered why I was tired at 40+. My doctor freaked when I told him I consumed 6-8 soft drinks per day. As soon as I stopped drinking them or eating anything HFCS I felt immediately better and had more energy.

Every time I try to drink one, I immediately feel sick, weak, tired, and nauseous. So take it from a human guinea pig - it's HORRIBLE for you!

NB-I can still eat natural sweets and sugars in moderation though, no problems.

9:19AM PDT on Oct 31, 2010

Still don't trust HFCS!

9:34AM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

To the CRA consultants commenting here, your point seems to be that you, as a dietitian, know HFCS is the same as sugar and not harmful--and that any studies at all that demonstrate otherwise are incorrect.

That is patently absurd. I am not allotted enough characters here to link to all the respected researchers, scientists (and yes, dietitians) who disagree with you. It is not just the "media" - who, by the way, are linking to dietitians, researchers, and scientists to support their points.

As Marion Nestle wrote, "Respected ADA colleagues: as long as your organization partners with makers of food and beverage products, its opinions about diet and health will never be believed independent (translation: based on science not politics) and neither will yours."

5:54AM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

The peoploe who manufacture this stuff should be executed. Just shot as they leave their homes. The ones that allow them to lie to screw up more people should be shot too. This stuff is poison and like everyhting else it won't be till they destroy enough people and then they'll do something. Whoever manufactures this stuff we need Lone Wolves. These people don't understand decency. Maybe they'll understand lead travelingat 3,000 feet per second

8:05PM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

I disagree with your statement that there is mounting evidence that HFCS.....is potentially harmful. There is no reliable evidence to indicate high fructose corn syrup is any different in human metabolism/human health than cane sugar. For example...the Princeton study used rats not humans. Any scientist will tell you that animal studies do not carry as much weight as a study done in humans.

I wish the media would stop confusing the public about good nutrition and leave nutrition advice up to the nutrition experts: Registered Dietitians.

Everyone should limit all added sugars--- and not demonize only one (HFCS) of the MANY types of sugar.

----Stasha Kucel MS, RD, LD, Registered Dietitian Consultant (including work with Corn Refiners Assoc.)

3:34PM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

As a registered dietitian who counsels patients and consults with the food and beverage industry including the Corn Refiners Association, I educate consumers on how to identify nutrition misinformation such as studies taken out of context and sensationalized. Further, in my practice I do not to focus on any one ingredient, food or beverage when giving practical advice but I do teach consumers about reading labels correctly. Whether called high fructose corn syrup, corn sugar or sucrose, all sweeteners are essentially the same nutritionally and metabolically and should be consumed in moderation. Consumers need to know how to make wise food choices overall and balance their daily intake with physical activity, not pick and choose certain ingredients or foods to avoid or eliminate from their diets. Bottom-line: education, so all can make these informed choices that are based on sound science, not personal opinion. Carol Sloan RD

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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