Facebook page reflects consumers’ growing ‘unliking’ of high fructose corn syrup

Posted by
March 20, 2012

If any further proof were needed of the power of social media to galvanize popular outrage, Ivan Royster has provided it.

When Royster started his “Ban High Fructose Corn Syrup” Facebook page back in 2009, he did so only with friends and family members in mind. “When you Googled high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) the first things you would find were from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA),” he recalls, “There wasn’t anything on Facebook, and I wanted a place to post information where people could draw their own conclusions.”

Royster did just that, spending hours each day searching for studies and facts about HFCS, and also answering posted questions and emails (which he still does every day). His dedication to getting the message out has resulted in making his page one of the top places for people to find facts and share information about HFCS, drawing over 210,000 fans so far and getting him interviewed by The New York Times.

This “conversation definitely needed to have a forum,” says Royster, who no longer consumes any products containing HFCS. “But I never imagined it was going to become this popular.”

Having now spent several years reading what consumers have to say about HFCS,  Royster believes that the CRA has largely succeeded in one area – its attempts to generate confusion. “Their ‘sugar is sugar’ ads have really confused the public a lot,” he contends, noting that they seem to be the main topic of discussion on the page.

Judging from some of the recent comments on the page, however, it’s apparent that the ad campaign has aroused a lot of ire as well.  “I’ve been seeing those ‘corn sugar’ commercial a lot. They should be sued for false advertising & blatant lies,” says a fan, while another observes, “Those commercials saying your body can’t tell the difference, sugar is sugar, make me and my mom really mad. My brother is allergic to corn, and let me tell you, your body KNOWS the difference..”

Should the CRA succeed in its current effort to have to have the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allow the name “high fructose corn syrup” to be changed to “corn sugar,” it will add immensely to the confusion, in his opinion “That would confuse even more consumers by making them think that HFCS went away,” he maintains. (To add your opinion on this proposed name switch to the FDA’s docket, click here).

So what, exactly, is Royster hoping to accomplish? “I want people to have the facts, and also be able to share stories and personal information on HFCS” is how he describes the mission that the page has come to represent.

One thing he would like to be able to share with his Facebook audience is a photo of actual HFCS, which has so far proven oddly difficult to find. “Why” he asks, “is this stuff so hard to buy? I’ve been trying to get some for quite some time now.”

A few years ago a Facebook contact did send him some photos of a white bucket containing a “kind of disgusting” pink and white liquid that said “HFCS 55” in red letters on it. He posted the photos on the Facebook page, and got quite a few comments on them.”

He also got a comment in the form of a letter from an attorney representing the Corn Refiners Association. “They said I didn’t have permission to post these photos, “So I had to take them down.” The letter itself, however, was a form of recognition of just how effective his efforts have been in promoting consumer awareness of the problems posed by the prevalence of HFCS in processed foods, reflecting the fact that the page has come under surveillance by the industry itself (even while it continues to claim that consumers really don’t care all that much about the presence of  HFCS in products, and that the issue will soon fade away if food processors simply ignore it).

Royster’s goal is still the same as when he started the page – to provide a place to help consumers become more aware of what’s in their food. “People assume a food is safe if it’s on the market and the FDA has ‘approved’ it,” he said. “High fructose corn syrup is still used a lot. I have to read labels and ‘duck and dodge’ to avoid it. I would love to be able to stop in a convenience store, run in and get a drink that’s HFCS free. Right now there are virtually no options in these types of stores. When I see HFCS-free foods and beverages start to trickle down to convenience stores, then I would say we’ve been successful.”

Keep the conversation going!