Archive for June, 2012
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 26, 2012
The advertising and marketing of pet food is big business, and since most brands contain basically the same ingredients – corn, soy and a variety of by-products – they are marketed using romantic stories, sham chefs, pretty pictures of vegetables and, of course, adorable dogs and cats. But as many consumers found out during the widespread recall of melamine-poisoned pet food in 2007, a significant number of brand-name foods, such as Nutro, Alpo, Science Diet, and Iams were all actually being produced (at least at the time) by one private-label Canadian company, Menu Foods.
As Marion Nestle noted in her book Pet Food Politics, “To make the different brands, Menu Foods used 1,300 different recipes, all formulated to AAFCO (more on that in a minute) specifications. Such recipes may differ in proportions of ingredients, but the basic ingredients are much the same. So the recall produced this revelation: the contents of pet foods are much alike, and the most important difference between one brand and another is not nutrition; it is price.”
Part of the price, of course, is the cost of advertising. Purina, which dominates the pet food market, does some of the biggest and slickest ad campaigns, such as its commercials for Chef Michael’s Canine Creations. If we are to believe these ads, a professional chef with a beautiful home and an adorable dog uses his cooking skills to create this “chef-inspired” nutritious dog food.
“My name is Chef Michael,” says this faceless fellow, “and when I come home from my restaurant, I love showing Bailey how special she is.”
Sounds like this “Chef Michael” can’t wait to get home from his chef job to cook up one of his delicious culinary creations for his best friend. If that’s the case, his restaurant must serve entrees made from meat-by-products, soy flour and corn gluten meal – all found in Canine Creations.
But apparently, Chef Michael is merely a figment of the marketing minds at Purina (or its ad agency), as Susan Thixton, who runs a site called truthaboutpetfood.com, found out. Writing to the company about his identity, she received this reply: “Please know that Chef Michael is not a real person, but a reflection of the many people inspired to make mealtime special for their dogs.”
Same stuff, different names
Another Purina brand, Beneful, takes the prize for great marketing and beautiful packaging showing giant pieces of veggies and meat, and offering several subcategories of the Beneful brand, such as “Playful Life,” “Healthy Radiance,” “Healthy Fiesta” and “IncrediBites.”
While there are some differences in the formulations, the first five ingredients on all are the same, starting out with ground yellow corn and chicken-by-product meal. The Beneful line also features a popular pet food ingredient called “animal digest,” officially described to be the “chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis” of “undecomposed animal tissue” with no specification of what animal the tissue may have originated from. That wouldn’t look too good on the packaging now, would it?
One of the Beneful selections is described as being “accented with vitamin-rich vegetables” (found in the ingredient listing down under the the animal digest and preservative) and also as having “six distinct pieces that represent real, wholesome ingredients.” I guess that’s an upgrade from regular, or perhaps, original Beneful, which only contains six “food-shaped pieces.”
Probably all of the pet food you’ll find contains the reassuring statement that it’s “complete and balanced nutrition,” but what does that mean, exactly?
The “complete nutrition” statement comes from an organization you’ve probably never heard of that has the biggest influence and impact on the United States pet food industry, AAFCO, which stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
Although it’s a voluntary agency and has no authority to regulate, nor does it test, approve or certify pet food, most states adopt its rulings and regulations into law.
One of AAFCO’s main duties is to create ingredient definitions and nutritional guidelines – for which pet foods must meet at least the minimum standards. And as we’ve seen with the corn refiners’ failed attempt to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar,” there’s a lot of benefit in having a ‘cleaner’ name for an ingredient. The rendering industry, for example, has been unsuccessfully attempting to ‘clean up’ the “by-products” name for some time now, asking AAFCO to change “poultry by-product meal” to the nicer-sounding “poultry protein meal.”
Pet food advertising and marketing has gotten a lot slicker than it was in the 1960s when consumers sang along with, “My dog’s better ’cause he eats Ken-L Ration.” But if you want to know what the product is made from, just like with “people food,” you need to pay attention to the ingredients, not the advertising hype – or be distracted by all those charming images on packages and in commercials.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 22, 2012
Kudos go out this week to Brian McFadden, writer/illustrator of The Strip, a weekly cartoon featured in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times. While reporters, editorial writers and opinion columnists of all stripe have repeatedly – and erroneously – used the term “sugary drinks” in referring to the supersize sodas that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban from being sold in various venues, it took cartoonist McFadden to correctly characterize them. His June 17 cartoon “Amended Stop and Frisk Procedures” depicts new groups that could be frisked by police in order to make the practice, which has been the subject of considerable protest in the Black and Latino communities, more politically acceptable. Among them: “Heavyset citizens – likely to be carrying more than 20 ounces of high fructose corn syrup subcutaneously.” To view the entire strip, click here.
Of course, the fallacious reference to “sugary drinks,” as I noted in a blog last week, didn’t originate with either the media or the mayor’s office, but rather turned out to be a phrase bandied about by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to convey the idea of any drink that is sweetened with added sugars,” as USDA spokesman John S. Webster explained it to me.
But, as it turns out, that little ‘s’ that separates “sugar” from “sugars” makes all the difference in the world to the people who are still attempting to represent high fructose corn syrup as a form of sugar, despite the recent ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that HFCS can neither be classified as “corn sugar” or, for that matter, “sugar.”
To refer back to another blog I posted on this subject last month, “sugars” is a regulatory term that appears on the Nutrition Facts Label defined as “the sum of all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose),” with no information as to what the source is or if the ‘sugars’ are naturally occurring or added.”
“Sugar,” on the other hand, has a distinctly different meaning, according to the FDA, which noted that when “sugar” is used to define identity or as an ingredient statement, it must mean real sugar, either from sugar cane or sugar beets. And that meaning was further clarified in the FDA’s May 30 rejection of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petition to have HFCS redesignated as “corn sugar,” in which the agency noted “that sugar is a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food.”
In other words, high fructose corn syrup, even though it may be included under the broad category of “sugars,” does not meet the definition of “sugar” in any way, shape or form.
But here’s where the corn refiners, who apparently can’t bear to let go of the “corn sugar” label that they so prematurely promoted in commercials and interviews, have continued to engage in a bit of semantic sleight-of-hand. On their current “Sweet Surprise” website, they say this in regard to the FDA edict:
“The Corn Refiners Association works every day to educate consumers about high fructose corn syrup…Consumers have the right to know what is in their foods and beverages in simple, clear language that enables them to make well-informed dietary decisions. In light of the FDA’s technical decision, it is important to note that the agency continues to consider HFCS as a form of added sugar, and requires that it be identified to consumers in the category of sugars on the Nutrition Facts Panel on foods and beverages.”
It does? Well, that certainly didn’t jibe with our reading of the “simple, clear language” contained in that FDA denial letter. So, to clear up any confusion, which the CRA claimed was the purpose of that proposed name change, I placed a call to the CRA and was told my question would be relayed to the organization’s president, Audrae Erickson.
If I actually hear from Ms. Erickson, I’ll certainly let you know, as we here at Food Identity Theft would also like to eliminate any confusion regarding this issue on the part of readers – just as cartoonist McFadden may have done last Sunday for readers of the Times.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 19, 2012
For its 25th anniversary issue, Cooking Light magazine took a look back at 25 years of what the editors dubbed the “weird, wacky and occasionally alarming trends that have bubbled up in the stew pot of the collective food consciousness,” and presented its picks for “25 years of food follies.”
Some of the “follies” relate to the every-increasing portion sizes that have become all too familiar on the food landscape by now — for example, Oscar Mayer’s introduction in 1987 of its longer frankfurter, bigger by 40 percent with 30 percent more calories. Others spotlight some of the creepy additives that food companies actually thought they could convince consumers to swallow, such as the fat substitute Olestra.
Now Olestra, also known as Olean, might have made a bigger splash in the processed-food world if not for an FDA-mandated warning label that included the term “loose stools” – what may have been the first such advisory on a bag of chips. Its selling point, a no-calorie fat substitute that goes right through the system, also gave lots of material to comedians and late-night talk-show hosts who popularized the term “anal leakage.” (But it’s still apparently in the marketplace, according to the Olean website, in some Pringles and Frito-Lay brands, as well as being used as a paint lubricant and additive.)
For its 2010 “folly” the magazine picked the Corn Refiners Association petition to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar,” a move which was just rejected last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A 2009 study, according to the magazine, showed that 58 percent of Americans worry that HFCS “poses a special health hazard,” leading Big Corn on a quest to “sweeten its name.”
Although the FDA didn’t let “corn sugar” fly, there are still other examples, from the ridiculous to the downright dastardly to choose from.
Food Identity Theft presents five of our own favorite food follies
In addition to the “corn sugar” fiasco, our own picks in this category are what we here at FIT consider to be more timeless examples of what food manufactures believe they can get away with.
1. Birthday parties for food products
For those of you who may not have realized it, a food product is not a living thing, nor does it have parents, siblings or friends that can be invited to celebrate its “birthday.” As food industry insider and blogger Bruce Bradley puts it, “products are lifeless, inanimate brands,” and the concept of giving them a big birthday bash has one reason only:“Big Food’s thirst for fat profits.”
As an example of such marketing tactics, Bradley examines the Oreo cookie’s 100th “birthday” bash, which is scheduled for the entire year of 2012. The “party” includes giant supermarket displays, limited edition varieties, marketing events, special recipes, and heavy-hitting social media. Such strategies, as Bradley point out, conform to the goal of making consumers “adore brands,” and “social media is a perfect place to make this happen.”
2. “Healthy” soda
Sodas touting quasi-health claims are trying hard to make you believe that drinking them will offer some kind of health benefit. It won’t. Soda is not a product that offers anything resembling nutrition, no matter what the label says. Canada Dry started testing the waters with its green tea ginger ale, saying it is “enhanced with 200 mg of antioxidants from green tea & vitamin C,” even while the second ingredient (after carbonated water) is high fructose corn syrup.
If you must drink soda, don’t do so with the rationale that it’s actually good for you. If you want green tea, brew some or get a ready-made version with good ingredients – and no HFCS.
3. A cookie that is marketed to be as good for you as veggies
WhoNu? cookies, a brand I’ve written about previously, makes it to our food follies list by touting the most absurd product claims ever. With pictures of oatmeal, milk and blueberries on the package front, WhoNu? implies that eating your vegetables or drinking milk is optional when you consume this amazing brand. Even worse than the product itself are the devoted fans who claim that this highly refined quasi-food item, which also contains artificial flavors, is somehow “a cookie to love” and “incredible.” Really, folks, who knew people could be so easy to fool?
4. Fruitless fruit products
Products that contain none of what’s in their name account for perhaps the most common form of food fraud. If we had a nickle for every fruit-flavored product on the market that contained no actual fruit but only “natural flavors” (whatever that means) it would be like hitting a nickle jackpot, The most common fruits that are depicted on labels but can’t be found in the products themselves seem to be blueberries, strawberries and cherries. (Every once in a while a court action is filed on behalf of consumers who have been fooled into buying such items – for example, the recent Center for Science in the Public Interest vs. General Mills’ Fruit Roll-Ups lawsuit in California over the claim that the product is “made with real fruit,” but in fact only contains “natural” flavors and pear juice concentrate.)
5. The marketing scam called “clean labeling”
One of the sneaker tactics used in food marketing is the “clean label” – a term used by the food industry to denote a food label that does not actually list ingredients consumers don’t want. A perfect example is the terminology used to conceal the presence of monosodium glutamate by listing other forms of free glutamic acid such as “yeast extract” or “hydrolyzed protein” in an attempt to fool consumers who are looking to avoid foods containing MSG.
If you’d rather not be a party to the food industry’s follies, try shopping for more “real” food. The more processed food items you buy, the more likely you are to become an unwitting stooge for some company’s clever marketing ploy.
What are your favorite “food follies” picks? Tell us on our Facebook page!
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 15, 2012
Having succeeded in focusing much of the media’s attention on the evils of so-called “sugary drinks,” New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has continued his campaign to ban sales of supersized beverages falling under that dubious definition, most recently on a visit to the Bronx, where more than two-thirds of residents are now classified as being overweight.
Ignored in all the brouhaha over the mayor’s anti-obesity theatrics, however, was the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has now gone on record as saying that the sweetener in most of those drinks – high fructose corn syrup – can in no way be regarded as “sugar.”
That distinction was made a mere two weeks ago in the FDA’s rejection of the Corn Refiners Association’s attempt to have the identity of high fructose corn syrup officially changed to “corn sugar” – but somehow got lost amid all the media coverage of Bloomberg’s anti-sugary drinks edict, which occurred on the very same day.
Seeing how the use of the term “sugary drinks” – along with media graphics and commercials depicting sugar cubes and sugar packets – has continued to be perpetuated unabated got us to wondering whether we could find where such an inaccurate phrase might have originated.
It didn’t take us long to discover the apparent source. “Sugary drinks,” as it turns out, is U.S. Department of Agriculture ‘consumerspeak’ – that is, “one of the consumer-tested messages drawn from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans that support the MyPlate communications initiative.” Or so noted John S. Webster, director of Public and Governmental affairs for the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion in response to our query on the matter.
“The term ‘sugary drinks’ is not a defined term,” Webster explained it in his initial answer. “It was chosen to convey the idea of any drink that is sweetened with added sugars. Sugary drinks includes any beverage sweetened with ingredients listed in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which includes honey, molasses, corn sweetener, and high fructose corn syrup, for example,” he added.
Furthermore, Webster noted, “We do not use the term ‘sugar packets’ to represent an actual measurement of high fructose corn syrup, which as you know is a fluid, nor is it used to represent a standard measurement of sweetener. We use the packet reference as a visual cue…for making the point that there is a significant amount of calories from added sugars in sugary drinks, regardless of the type of sugar.”
When asked to clarify whether USDA planned to change those designations in light of the FDA’s having spelled out the precise difference, and if their continued use might be confusing since most such beverages contained HFCS, not sugar, Webster replied:
“FDA’s decision on the subject petition does not affect the naming conventions for the many caloric sweeteners on the market. … If we were to focus our attention on just one sweetening ingredient, e.g., high fructose corn syrup, we would lose sight of the more important point and public health problem: Americans are consuming far too many empty calories from added sugars.”
A ‘message’ that ignores critical differences
Beyond the basic inaccuracy of describing HFCS as “sugar,” however, the problem with this “communications initiative” is that it totally ignores some intrinsic differences between these two sweeteners that many consumers might want to take into consideration when making purchasing decisions.
In an e-mail sent Friday morning, Dr. Michael Goran, professor of Preventive Medicine and director of The Childhood Obesity Research Center at the University of Southern California, asserted that the FDA’s definition of sugar as a solid and HFCS as a syrup rather than a sugar “is a clear distinction,” which “means that all the New York health ads focused on sugar are technically not correct since the sodas are mostly not made with sugar but with HFCS.”
In a 2010 study, Dr. Goran’s group found that the HFCS used in several popular beverages are delivering a fructose ‘jolt’ much higher than commonly believed. Levels as high as 65 percent of the super-sweet fructose were found in Coke, Pepsi and Sprite. “This works out to be 30 percent more fructose than if the sodas were made with natural sugar,” he pointed out. (Natural sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets is 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.)
Goran also stated in a June 7th article in the online journal Science 2.0 ( as noted here previously), “HFCS can be made to have any proportion of fructose, as high as 90 percent, and added to foods without the need to disclose the specific fructose content.”
Goran, who said he was “surprised and happy” about the FDA’s rejection of the Corn Refiners Association’s 2010 “corn sugar” petition, told us he is planning to conduct additional studies to try and find out the actual fructose content in certain beverages and “to keep plugging away at making sure HFCS is exposed for what it is.”
He added that he believes the reality of these beverages being made with HFCS is considered “too much for the public to understand,” as opposed to the “simple” image of eating sugar.
Of course, one reason that the public is being spoon-fed such a fallacious “consumer-tested message” just might be that while it’s easy enough to illustrate the point with sugar packets, using HFCS as a “visual cue” is next to impossible, since it’s something consumers never actually get to see, let alone purchase.
That might help explain why the “communications initiative” being used by USDA to help guide Americans’ dietary choices is actually helping lead to a form of ‘sweetener identity theft’. Or, as the title character in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” so aptly put it, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 12, 2012
Would a “reasonable consumer” be misled by a package of Fruit Roll-Ups claiming to be “made with real fruit” that doesn’t actually contain any? Quite possibly, said a California court in recently allowing a case against General Mills to go forward.
A complaint filed last October by the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims that although the packaging made the products appear to be nutritious, they were in fact “little better than candy.”
General Mills claimed the snacks (which contain trans-fats and artificial colors, but no actual fruit) were never represented as being “healthful or nutritious,” and that the label “plainly disclose(s)” all those ‘fruitless’ ingredients. The company argued, in asking that the case be dismissed, that “made with real fruit” is a legitimate label claim, and that “reasonable consumers” would not take it to mean there are specific fruits or amounts of fruit in the product.
While the court disagreed with that premise, saying that consumers may “…believe that product is made with real strawberries, and not pears from concentrate,” it acknowledged that FDA regulations allow for fruit to be advertised on food products that contain only “natural” flavors. Although describing the regulation’s logic as “troubling,” the Court said it was nonetheless “bound to apply it…So long as that product ‘contains natural flavor’ which is ‘derived from’ the ‘characterizing food ingredient,’ it will not run afoul of the regulation,” it noted.
A similar case, filed in February against PepsiCo’s SoBe “all natural” beverages was recently dismissed under the premise that the so-called “reasonable consumer” would be able to see through all the “ambiguity” created by calling the SoBe drinks fruity, natural-sounding names such as black cherry dragonfruit and strawberry kiwi lemonade, simply by reading the ingredient list.
Despite all that, it now appears that the “reasonable consumer” may finally be given his or her day in court, with Fruit Roll-Ups as the test case that could determine whether such fruity labeling really is “clear” to that hypothetical individual and whether it will continue to be permitted.
Stevia products now join the lineup in “natural” litigation
Additional “natural” lawsuits include a class-action filed in California against Jamba Juice and its “all natural” smoothies, which the complaint alleges contains “unnaturally processed, synthetic and/or non-natural ingredients…” including stevia.
The lawsuit states that “…calcium hydroxide and aluminum sulfate” may be used in the extraction process, and that steviol glycosides are “demineralized and decolorized…”
Stevia, which has a long and twisted regulatory history, was not permitted as a sweetener prior to the success of PureVia brand in “self” determining its product to be GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe,” in May of 2008. PureVia, it turns out, was a joint effort of PepsiCo and another company, Merisant, a spinoff of Monsanto – the makers of NutraSweet, the original brand name for aspartame, which, interestingly enough, was thought to be the source of the“trade complaint” that resulted in the FDA issuing an “import alert,” which effectively kept stevia off the market (except in supplement form) for decades.
Other companies soon climbed aboard the stevia bandwagon. Truvia, for example, is a stevia-based product manufactured by Cargill – which also brings us loads of high fructose corn syrup.
But is this supermarket stevia really a “natural” extract of a naturally sweet leaf, or does it simply represent another commercial food-science experiment with what once-upon-a-time was a real food?
While courts continue to be kept busy attempting to define what’s “natural” and what isn’t, one group, appropriately named the Natural Products Association (NPA), which already has developed its own seal of naturalness for personal care and home-cleaning items, has begun testing the waters by introducing a similar concept for food items.
Helped along by the fact that the FDA has declined to provide its own definition of “natural,” the NPA is still working out the details of how such a seal of approval would be developed.
Cara Welch, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at NPA told on-line trade pub Nutraingredients-usa.com that products bearing the seal-to-be would be naturally sourced, and “non-qualifying” ingredients would include, modified starch, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Of course, if you’d rather not wait for the NPA to get its labeling act together, you can always find truly “natural” foods simply by looking for ones with no ingredient labels at all – such as “real” fruits and vegetables.
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 7, 2012
A week that began in a haze of sticky confusion over the difference between high fructose corn syrup and sugar in the follow-up to New York City Mayor Bloomberg’s declaration of war against super-sized “sugary drinks” has now ended, appropriately enough, with a “Sugary Drinks Summit” conducted in Washington, D.C. on June 6 and 7.
Spearheaded by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the summit is touted to “strategize” ways to “improve health by reversing the dramatic increase in sugary-drink consumption over the past decades.”
What is a “sugary drink” you may ask? According to CSPI, which says it’s a question that “confuses” lots of folks, a “sugary drink” is one made with “naturally derived” sugar or one that is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
CSPI also states on its fewersugarydrinks.org website that calories consumed from these “sugary drinks” have “doubled” between the years of 1977 and 2002. I don’t know what specific statistics the bunch at CSPI are consulting, but what I do know is that the USDA numbers for calories consumed with “real” sugar – made from sugar cane or sugar beets – dropped by about a third during that time frame.
What did increase, by a whopping amount, is high fructose corn syrup consumption. In the years that CSPI references, daily calories taken in from HFCS in all its food uses, went from a mere 32 in 1977 to 212 calories a day by 2002, according to the USDA.
Big Apple Mayor Michael Bloomberg and staff are another example of those who can’t make a distinction between real sugar and HFCS. For his Monday press conference, Bloomberg surrounded himself with drinks that contain no sugar and stacks of sugar cubes in front to represent their “sugary” nature.
Only time will tell if the decision of the Food and Drug Administration last week, rejecting the petition from Big Corn to redo HFCS as “corn sugar,” and its subsequent wording explaining exactly why HFCS is not sugar, will change the definition of a “sugary drink“ and the name of this week’s event to “High Fructose Corn Syrup Summit” should CSPI decide to order a ‘refill’ next year.
The “corn sugar” saga continues
Meanwhile, the campaign to relabel HFCS as “corn sugar” – at least in our collective consciousness – has moved right along in spite of the FDA’s official thumbs down on the effort.
The latest salvo was fired by former one-term Mississippi Congressman-turned-lobbyist Ronnie Shows in the form of an opinion-page piece featured in the conservative Washington Times. Entitled “Give corn sugar a fair shake,” the piece accuses “Big Sugar” of directing “aggression” toward the makers of high fructose corn syrup by engaging in “an effort to block its (sic) campaign to educate consumers that HFCS is simply another form of sugar, just like beet and cane sugar.”
“Rarely in all my years in Washington have I seen this kind of opposition to the seemingly straightforward request to change the name from something so confusing that no one understands – high fructose corn syrup – to something common-sense sounding that everyone will comprehend, corn sugar,” Shows’ commentary stated.
In a subsequent phone conversation, however, the author of the piece admitted that he might not be all that familiar with the issue and probably hadn’t read the FDA’s reasons for denying the name change request as explained in a letter to Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson. He wasn’t aware, for instance, that corn sugar was the official name for dextrose, a fructose-free ingredient, and that the proposed name change might jeopardize the health of individuals who can’t consume fructose. Nor did he know that HFCS doesn’t fit the FDA’s official definition of sugar as being a “solid, dried and crystallized food.”
“I probably don’t have the technical knowledge I need to have,” was the way Shows put it.
Shows further acknowledged that he hadn’t known about the overwhelming public opposition to the corn refiners’ request for a name change, as reflected in the thousands of comments on the petition.
He also denied that this particular piece had anything to do with his work as a lobbyist, claiming it was simply intended to help farmers in the part of Mississippi where he’s from, since (as he noted in the article) he’s “a longtime supporter of both the sugar and corn industries.” He decided to write something on the issue, he explained after ”a buddy called me and asked me to take a look at it.”
Asked whether he had actually written the piece in question, he replied, “I wrote most of it” and that someone had looked it over. “But it might not be as factual as it needs to be.”
Perhaps that should have been added on as a disclaimer for Washington Times readers who might have been influenced by statements like, “Educating the public that HFCS is a sugar can only help to give consumers the information they need to better control their diet.”
Posted by Linda Bonvie -- June 5, 2012
Last Wednesday’s big news story – a major victory for consumers when the FDA denied the 2010 petition from the Corn Refiners Association to rename high fructose corn syrup “corn sugar” – got trumped the next day with erroneous blanket press coverage on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on supersized “sugary drinks.”
The totally misleading premise, unquestioned by all of the reporters, that the beverages targeted by the mayor in his war on obesity were “sugary” ones, got kicked off with a press conference by Bloomberg and Linda Gibbs, deputy mayor for health, as they surrounded themselves with soft drinks and sugar cubes, which were supposedly “measuring” the amount of “sugar” in each beverage.
But in fact, likely all the drinks at the mayor’s press conference contained no sugar at all, and the high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten these beverages wasn’t mentioned once in the extreme press coverage, which used catch phrases such as “sugar wars” to describe the initiative.
All this comes right on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) making it official that high fructose corn syrup ain’t sugar. In a May 30 rejection letter from Michael M. Landa, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson, it plainly states in its thumbs down to the name switch that “…using the term ‘sugar’ would not be consistent with the general principles governing common or usual names…”
Not only did Bloomberg kick off his obesity war on a totally false premise, but he exempted diet sodas as well, giving a green light to guzzle super-sized aspartame-sweetened beverages.
While high fructose corn syrup wasn’t mentioned once in all the news coverage, almost as if the entire controversy over the ubiquitous presence of this unnatural, test-tube sweetener had suddenly disappeared, I did notice that numerous readers picked up the omission with comments such as this at the New York Times site: “Mayor Bloomberg and many others speak of “sugar.” These drinks in question do not use cane sugar and have not since the 1980s, coincidentally when obesity began to really take off. A few readers have correctly identified the sweetener used as ‘high fructose corn syrup,’ which the Federal government does indeed subsidize at both the financial and physical expense of individuals.”
Aside from the FDA’s “official” distinction between HFCS and sugar, we should know by now that not all calories are created equal, and there’s a world of difference between HFCS and real sugar – even if the press wasn’t going to mention it. Oddly, just when the “corn sugar” food-labeling controversy had reached its long-awaited conclusion, the issue got drowned out with stories about a mayor versus a big gulp containing high fructose corn syrup mislabeled as “sugar.”
What’s next for the corn refiners?
Foiled in its attempt to grab the “corn sugar” name for HFCS, the CRA revised its mega-bucks Google AdWords campaign, but doesn’t look like it’s letting go of the “S” word anytime soon.
The Google ads running on Thursday morning, a day after the FDA rejected its rebranding petition, read, “high fructose corn syrup is simply a kind of corn sugar.” A few hours later, they were revised to read, “sweeteners compared, review factual information on the benefits of popular sweeteners,” and “learn more about sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup here,” linking to its SweetSurprise site.
But the CRA, loath to dispense with its favorite word, “sugar,” is still pitching its HFCS product as just that, merely switched around a bit.
Headlining its website with “high fructose corn syrup is simply a form of sugar made from corn,” they seem to think that by placing the “sugar” before the “corn” they have somehow fixed the problem.
But, despite HFCS having been conveniently confused with “sugar” by the media as well as the mayor, the “problem” isn’t about to go away, given the public’s growing distaste for it – and the fact that the corn refiners can no longer conceal it behind another, sweeter-sounding name.