Ignore the Politics: We Would All Be Healthier Without Table Sugar

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Both the Sugar Association and Corn Refiners are waging costly legal battles, but they only care about corporate profits, not public health

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The public relations firm for the Sugar Association, Levick Strategic Communications, sent me a press release celebrating the victory of sugar producers against corn refiners over the question of whether high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be renamed "corn sugar."

A federal judge ruled that the case brought by the Sugar Association against the Corn Refiners can proceed to trial. If you want the details, see the judge's "order denying in part and granting in part defendents' motion to dismiss", and "order granting defendents' motion to strike."

I cannot even begin to tell you how funny I think all this is.

The Sugar Association represents growers of sugar beets and cane. They produce table sugar -- sucrose -- a double sugar composed of glucose and fructose linked together. In the body, sucrose is quickly split to glucose and fructose.

The Corn Refiners represent processors of corn (obviously). They produce HFCS, a syrup made of glucose and fructose.

From a biological standpoint, glucose and fructose are the same no matter where they come from. Biochemically, sucrose, glucose, and fructose are all sugars.

HFCS used to be a lot cheaper than sucrose, but what with all the corn used for ethanol, the price gap has narrowed. As a result, and because HFCS has gotten a bad reputation, companies are dropping it in favor of sucrose. The Corn Refiners are upset about that and think a name change would help.

The Sugar Association thinks it's just great that HFCS has a bad reputation and does not want table sugar to be confused with corn sugar.

Both of these trade associations are acting totally in self-interest. Neither cares at all about public health. The lawsuit is entirely about corporate profits, not public welfare.

The Sugar Association is famous for protecting a system of quotas and tariffs that transfers money from American consumers to the coffers of sugar producers. Its aggressive actions in its own self interest are legendary (see, for example, its threatening letter to me when Food Politics came out -- this and my reply are posted at the end of the About section).

And I've written previously about the Corn Refiners' consistently bad self-interested behavior.

Both trade associations behave with appalling disregard for the public.

In this case, the public interest is clear: Everyone would be healthier eating less table sugar and HFCS.

Image: Aivolie/Shutterstock

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This post also appears on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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