It’s not the ‘sugar’ in those drinks, but the high fructose corn syrup, stupid!

Posted by
June 5, 2012

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a case of "Food Identity Theft."

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.