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High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dead! Long Live Corn Sugar!

High Fructose Corn Syrup is Dead! Long Live Corn Sugar!

Some people ask me (namely representatives from the Corn Refiners Association), why do I have such a vendetta against high fructose corn syrup? Are my claims accurate? Is my blanket dismissal even fair? Well, at this point, I feel less of an antipathy against the highly processed golden syrup than I once did, and more of a staunch dismissiveness to the idea of it. I reserve any disdain, or dislike for those who, instead of focusing on making a better product (or at least owning up to its many drawbacks) take on increasingly evasive, elaborate and cynical measures to repackage said product and sell it back to the unwitting consumer.

Case in point: the seeming phoenix-like, PR savvy, rebirth of “corn sugar” out of the treacle-like ashes of the popularly maligned high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). At this point, the people have spoken. HFCS, while still widely consumed (The average American ate 35.7 pounds of high fructose corn syrup last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s down 21 percent from 45.4 pounds from ten years before.), is not exactly a well-received additive in our food supply. Consumers have become aware of the ubiquity of the sweetener, as well as its potential impact on the health of those who consume it, and they don’t like it. Manufacturers (some, not all) have listened and have smartly removed it from their products. Gatorade, Sara Lee, Snapple and Hunt’s Ketchup all dumped HFCS in the last year and switched over to the devil you know, sugar. So now, with the country all abuzz over the evils of HFCS, what is a corn refiner to do? Jump ship and start refining sugar? Improve the existing product to the extent that it no longer presents the same health concerns that helped to demonize it in the first place? Or just re-brand the product and claim it is indistinguishable from sugar in everyway?

Get ready for Corn Sugar. As I reported back in May, the Corn Refiners Association had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to allow a name change to the simpler, less-chemical-y “corn syrup.” The FDA gave the petition the thumbs up, but (no surprise here) after an objection from the Corn Refiners’ rival, the Sugar Association, F.D.A. officials sent another letter saying that they needed to give the matter further thought. So now, as a bit of marketing jujitsu (or just a slap in the face to our sugar-coated friends) HFCS is now, the new and improved, “corn sugar.”

This sort of re-branding is hardly rare (“low eurcic acid rapeseed oil” became the all-purpose “canola oil” in 1988), but the whole “corn sugar” masquerade seems utterly cynical, as if consumers will somehow shun the syrup and accept the sugar. The “corn sugar” campaign is indeed savvy, with the repackaging of HFCS (and it is simply a repackaging, not at all a reformulation) as sugar, the Corn Refiners Association can now claim (as they do in their new ad campaign) that, “sugar is sugar.” Isn’t this what we all want? Life to be so simple that it is boiled down to these elemental truths?

Now the Sugar Association is likely pretty displeased by all of this, but really, should they be? The hullabaloo surrounding HFCS has greatly increased the market share, and appeal, of refined sugar – almost recasting it as a natural, nostalgic and highly preferable product to HFCS. And the whole tag of “sugar is sugar” slyly skirts the issue that while sugar might be sugar, sugar is still exceedingly bad for you. The notion that anything natural is healthy—and anything artificial is not—seems entirely deluded when it comes to added sweeteners. The message here should be drastic moderation over all, and unyielding consumer vigilance without exception.

Until we have a handle on all of this, we get to stand on the sidelines and watch the sugar mafias battle it out for the hearts and waistlines of the American public.

Read more: Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, , , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

52 comments

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9:57AM PDT on Sep 24, 2010

To SusanQ S (and whoever else this "shoe" fits--you know who you are): STOP BLAMING THE GOVERNMENT FOR EVERYTHING! Yes, the FDA is a Federal Agency, but it's not "The Government" as you put it. The FDA, USDA, CIA, etc., are all federal agencies that could stand a good shake down--yes, totally agreed; but just generically blaming "The Government," as this Big Bad Wolf, responsible for all the ills of our society it not only simplistic, but insidious, as well as highly seditious and destructive. There are many bad elements within government offices that go undetected until something big happens, forcing them out of their rat holes for everyone to see. The FDA is particularly vulnerable in this regard; however, until the laws change to make this and other agencies more transparent, more able to enforce regulations, irregularities will continue. Maybe your wrath should be directed at Congress, for their inability to make laws that actually BENEFIT us all, and not just those who can afford Capitol Hill moles (a.k.a. lobbyists) to sway legislation in THEIR favor.

6:56PM PDT on Sep 22, 2010

Dr Oz had a segment on this and said to avoid it. It's one of the causes for so much sugar in the American diet. These hidden sugars have caused Americans to go from 15 pounds of sugar a year to 90 pounds.

7:15PM PDT on Sep 21, 2010

Our goverment doing some of it's best work!
Screwing the people again

4:21PM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

Alliance for Natural Health -- anh-usa.org and GaryNull.com and MyHeartBook.com
B.

3:21PM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

I always read labels. Too many of them have MSG. I am moving more toward Slow Food and making everything from scratch. It doesn't seem to be taking any more time

9:40AM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

Always read the product label. Call the toll-free phone number on label of product; tell the staffer that the product has too much sugar, sodium, whatever.

We, the consumers, have to take responsibility for what we are eating.

2:19AM PDT on Sep 20, 2010

thanks

7:58PM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

And you wonder why obesity is rampant?

5:54PM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

Didn't their Mama's teach them any better than to LIE? Hmmm, too bad the FDA goes along with this type of cynical misleading con perpetuated on the American pubic...where is truth in advertising?

11:59AM PDT on Sep 19, 2010

Buen video.

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