The Corn Refiners Association is causing quite a stir with its print ads and television commercials pushing an image makeover for high fructose corn syrup. In one TV ad, a mother pours a glass of bright red punch; in another, a woman offers a cherry-colored Popsicle. In both commercials, the women are challenged to defend their choice of food containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Each has this ready response: high-fructose corn syrup is made from corn, has no artificial ingredients, and has the same calories as sugar. Of course they know to exercise moderation, as with any other natural sweetener but otherwise, they wonder, why all the fuss?
Is it possible that high-fructose corn syrup has gotten a bum rap?
The Center for Consumer Freedom is overseeing the image advertising on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association. Media consultants with a portfolio that includes campaigns to raise the legal level of blood alcohol in drivers and to allow higher levels of mercury in fish, the CCF wants to burnish HFCS‘s reputation with the notion that sugar is sugar is sugar: same calories, same carbohydrates, same handling by the body once it’s in the bloodstream. And it comes from corn with no added artificial ingredients. Just like honey, say the ads.
HFCS is the product of an elaborate, refining process. Three enzymes (two of which have been genetically modified) are used in a series of processes that isomerize and convert the sugar compounds, prior to a liquid chromatography step, before the sugary slurry is pumped into tankers for shipping. Ok, not just like honey, but why quibble?
The CCF campaign focuses the argument on the nature of sugars, allowing it to sidestep the other objections to HFCS, like the trace mercury levels that remain after processing, and the environmental and economic havoc wreaked by industrially-grown corn, a government-subsidized, genetically-modified, over-planted, factory-farmed monoculture.
Large-scale food processors love high fructose corn syrup. It mixes easily, extends shelf-life, helps breads brown and keeps them soft, prevents freezer burn, and best of all, it’s cheaper than any other sweetener. Unexpected amounts of HFCS can be found in hot dog buns and English muffin, mayonnaise and salsa, cereals, sodas, spaghetti sauce, frozen entrees, ketchup – you name it. And therein lies the real danger.
Rising rates of childhood obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other weight-related illnesses over the past few decades have mirrored a rise in HFCS consumption. Sugar consumption, eclipsed by HFCS in this period, has actually declined. Even as the Corn Refiners Association advocates moderation in its ads, the stealthy, insidious use of HFCS in processed foods, particularly those aimed at children, makes this next to impossible.
A bum rap for high-fructose corn syrup or a sweet deception by the Center for Consumer Freedom?
I for one will be watching those ads with a grain of salt. Or sugar.