Five things the Corn Refiners want the food industry, and you, to believe

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February 28, 2012

Two of the additives that more and more consumers are now attempting to avoid are also the ones most commonly found in a wide variety of processed foods – high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, and monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

Both of these unwelcome ingredients also have their own “trade associations,” groups comprised of member companies whose job it is to both promote and defend their use and do “damage control” by issuing press releases claiming that all is well whenever the media publicizes some study or report of adverse effects from their product.

The one representing  MSG is called “The Glutamate Association,” described as “…manufacturers, national marketers, and processed food users of glutamic acid and its salts, principally the flavor enhancer, monosodium glutamate (MSG),” and whose membership includes “many of the world’s largest food companies…”

For HFCS it’s the Corn Refiners Association (CRA). The CRA, based in Washington, D.C., is the national trade association that represents the ‘wet milling’ corn refining industry in the U.S. (Wet milling produces corn products such as animal feed, starch, and of course, high fructose corn syrup, whereas ‘dry milling’ produces products such as corn flakes, grits and meal.)

The CRA has been really busy for the past few years trying to promote and rebrand its ‘baby’, high fructose corn syrup, which has developed a really bad image problem. Sure you’ve seen the commercials and the cornfields and the folks who can’t remember why they don’t want to consume HFCS, but there’s another side to the CRA’s job. And that’s not to have any more food producers jump off the HFCS wagon and go back to using natural sugar as an ingredient.

To that end, the CRA has also produced ads, webcasts and ‘information’ campaigns designed to convince the food industry that consumers don’t really care if HFCS is in a product or not.

An example is a CRA webcast last December, ”The changing ingredient game: the business case for high fructose corn syrup,” sponsored by the trade publication Progressive Grocer, in which the goal was to provide manufactures with an “update” of  “the role HFCS can play in your future business decisions.” In other words, while the CRA is busy trying to convince consumers that HFCS is all perfectly natural and “fine in moderation” it’s also engaged in a campaign to sell food companies on the idea that those same consumers still love products sweetened with this laboratory concoction.

Here’s what the sales pitch consists of:

1. Consumers no longer care about ingredients.

In part one of the CRA presentation, “The new landscape ahead,” the group claims that “emphasis on ingredients” is so very “yesterday,” whereas today’s consumers only care about “total calories and nutrient groups.” For instance, it shows how the industry-created “Nutrition Keys” front of package labeling system idea (which appears to have been renamed “Fact up Front” some time ago)  is now switching the focus from ingredient labeling to nutrients and caloric content.

2. HFCS is “old news.”
Claiming that “the media tide has turned” and that HFCS is “not social media news” the CRA is trying get the food industry to believe that no one (aside from the CRA, of course) even cares enough to talk about it anymore. Well, I don’t know where the group gets the statistics it uses to support this allegation, but that’s not what I’m seeing. Take a trip around Facebook, especially Ivan Royster’s extremely popular “Ban of HFCS” page with over 210,000 “likes” and you’ll see an entirely different story.

3. Only “three percent” of consumers are deliberately avoiding HFCS.
According to another one of its statistical analysis studies – this one dating back to 2005 –  the “HFCS top-of-mind awareness” quota of consumers actually looking to avoid the test-tube sweetener is a mere three percent of the total, the conclusion being: “Net: few avoiding HFCS.” Really? Even if this ‘just believe it cause we say it’ claim were true seven years ago (which is itself a highly questionable presumption), it would have little relevance today, when consumers have become a lot savvier about the true nature of HFCS, and more determined than ever to eliminate it from their diet.

4. HFCS-free is a “very small consumer opportunity”
What that statement means is that despite more and more mega-companies reformulating and slapping “No HFCS” on their labels, the CRA has concluded, thanks to its magnificent statistical number crunching, that removing HFCS from a product won’t help sales one bit. So why bother going to all the trouble and expense involved? (As if large companies just make such changes in their products capriciously, without doing their own marketing research.)

5. HFCS is really “corn sugar”
Now if the CRA has a “happy place” dreaming about transforming HFCS into “corn sugar” is where it’s at. Hence its 2010 petition, filed with the Food and Drug Administration to have the  name “high fructose corn syrup” officially changed to “corn sugar.” So why,  if for the vast majority of shoppers, ‘HFCS-free’ is not an important purchase decision factor,” as the corn refiners claim, do they still want to get rid of the name. If it’s not a big deal to consumers, why go to all that bother?

Because the fact is that, despite such soothing ‘sweet talk’ from the CRA to its customers in industry, in reality it is a big deal.  And that’s why they are so intent on having it masquerade as “corn sugar.”

Again consumers are seeing what’s going on here, and they are responding. With well over 4,000 public comments sent to the FDA about that petition, and over 1,800 posted online, it’s obvious consumers care very much what’s in their food.

You can still add your voice to the “corn sugar” issue by clicking here and giving your opinion to the FDA. Every consumer comment counts!

Linda Bonvie –