The Increasingly Absurd Fight Over High Fructose Corn Syrup's Name

Trade associations have gone to court, arguing that the Corn Refiners Association is behind a conspiracy designed to deceive the public

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The fight between the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association over what to call High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) seems never to end.

Trade associations representing growers of sugar cane and sugar beets (sucrose -- the white stuff on the table) have gone to court to charge that corporate members of the Corn Refiners Association (HFCS) are behind a "conspiracy" deliberately designed to "deceive the public." Why? Because -- in an equally absurd move -- they want to change the name of HFCS to corn sugar.

The sucrose-growers lawsuit argues Corn Refiners conspired to engage in false advertising as part of a $50 million campaign to promote HFCS by changing its name to "corn sugar," thereby implying that HFCS is equivalent to "real" sugar from cane and beet plants.

Oh please. Sucrose is glucose and fructose linked together. HFCS is glucose and fructose separated. Both are sugars (note: plural). Sucrose is extracted from sugar beets and cane in a series of boiling, extracting, and cleaning steps. HFCS does the same from corn, but uses one more enzyme so is somewhat less "natural," but so what?

Both are sugars and empty calories, and everyone would be better off eating less of both.

What's really at issue here is the encroachment of HFCS into sucrose territory. Americans used to eat much more sucrose than HFCS. Now we consume about 60 pounds of each of them a year -- way too much of either.

My opinion: The name change is frivolous and so is the lawsuit.

Both are a waste of time and distract from the real message: eat less sugar(s).

Image: Gayvoronskaya_yana/Shutterstock.

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

Presented by

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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