Will school children go hungry without HFCS?

Posted by
October 6, 2011

In the category of ‘you can’t make this stuff up,’ I stumbled across a posting by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) at its “Sweet Surprise” site. On a

School lunch break Fresno City, California in May, 1940

page titled “School Nutrition” the CRA has created a “sample January middle school lunch menu” showing that without HFCS, the kids would have 67% less food to eat.

Not only would children on such a menu be deprived of chicken, rice, hamburgers and fish, it looks like some of the only things left to eat in a world without HFCS would be some hummus, fresh fruit, green beans and, interestingly, corn (which contains no fructose naturally –  the fructose in HFCS is conjured up from corn starch using a complex process). But the CRA chart seems to confirm what many HFCS critics have been saying: that consuming HFCS in “moderation” is next to impossible.

But some of that HFCS would have been eliminated from school lunches under April specifications for the School Lunch Program issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requiring that some canned fruits and vegetables contain only sugar-sweetened syrups. The mandate, in effect, prohibited corn-based sweeteners such as HFCS in these items. (The USDA purchases foods (commodities)  in bulk for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which participating schools can purchase with state funds. The NSLP allows schoolchildren to receive low- or no-cost midday meals).

USDA does a turnabout on HFCS and some school lunch foods

In response to an inquiry I made with the USDA, however, a spokesman for that agency told me just today that the agency is revising its commodity specifications this month to include the allowance of  “light” HFCS in certain canned fruits and vegetables. The agency’s apparent change of heart came after representatives of the corn industry voiced their concerns to agency officials.

Corn growers and corn trade associations were alarmed by the April ‘sugar only’ specification, with the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) sending folks to meet with USDA officials and issuing a news letter saying that the USDA is “(banning) the use of high fructose corn syrup in the nation’s school lunch program.”

According to an ICGA spokeswoman, the group was asking the USDA to “reconsider” its decision, and apparently the agency did just that.

A USDA spokesman told me today that it was “brought to our attention” that HFCS is commercially available in “extra light” syrups, and that a new commodity specification would be issued this month removing the ‘sugar only’ requirement.  He was unable to say if issuing a second specification for these items in the same year was  unusual or not.

The “official” USDA School Lunch Program has been around since 1946.

HFCS officially out of these locations

Numerous food-related companies have taken the lead in removing HFCS from products, restaurants and stores You won’t find any HFCS at Whole Foods Markets, Starbucks and Jason’s Deli, to name just a few. See more on our “Good Guys” page.

I will give the Iowa Corn Growers Association credit, however, for NOT referring to HFCS as “corn sugar,”  a misleading and false moniker that the Corn Refiners Association is trying to work into our vocabulary.