FDA Gives an Insulin Shot In the Arm to Corn Syrup Critics

Corn refinery"What's in a name? That which we call high-fructose corn syrup
By any other name would taste as sweet."
-- With apologies to William Shakespeare

If you ask America's Corn Refiners Association, it seems they put quite a lot of stock in a name. For years, the CRA has been trying to get the Food and Drug Administration to OK renaming high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, "corn sugar."

They lost that battle last week, when the FDA rejected their request. As a representative of the actual sugar industry exulted: "Sugar is sugar! HFCS is not sugar."

But why is this a big deal for the corn lobby?

HFCS has earned a fair bit of a stigma. It's blamed by many experts for contributing to the epidemic of obesity. One city in particular, which shall go nameless (although its initials are NYC), has even tried to reduce consumption of the stuff by banning the sale of large sodas.

Sticks and Stones

People may hate HFCS, but who could hate good ol' fashioned (corn) sugar? It's practically a staple in American pantries.

From the cereal we eat in the morning to the toasted BLT we have for lunch, to the evening aperitif of Coca-Cola -- it's hard to find a product on grocers' shelves that doesn't contain at least a small dollop of the stuff.

HFCS manufacturers such as Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, and Ingredion (INGR), will tell you this is all just fine. Chemically speaking, they say, HFCS is indistinguishable from "natural" sugar. And if the goose doesn't bite you, the gander shouldn't either.

Regardless, so many people have been spooked by HFCS that firms ranging from Starbucks (SBUX) to PepsiCo (PEP) to ConAgra Foods (CAG) have begun switching to real sugar in certain products, and labeling them "no high-fructose corn syrup" in the hopes that this will goose sales.

Time for a Real Solution

Like the sugar/HFCS conflict, obesity is a sticky problem. Labeling HFCS a "fat-maker" -- and making that label stick -- may help to solve it. But there's a simpler way:

Over the last 15 years, American taxpayers spent $77.1 billion subsidizing the corn industry (versus $242 million on sugar beets). End these subsidies, and the price of HFCS just might rise enough that companies will stop spraying it on every morsel we eat -- and save us some tax dollars in the process.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of PepsiCo and Starbucks. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of PepsiCo and Starbucks, creating a diagonal call position in PepsiCo, and writing covered calls on Starbucks.

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"Over the last 15 years, American taxpayers spent $77.1 billion subsidizing the corn industry (versus $242 million on sugar beets). End these subsidies, and the price of HFCS just might rise enough that companies will stop spraying it on every morsel we eat -- and save us some tax dollars in the process."

That makes way too much economic, health, and common sense for Americans to be interested...

"What about the farmer's jobs? What about Coca Cola? Wah wah wah."
-Go read Economics in One Lesson by Hazlitt and Road to Serfdom by Hayek if you're worried about the "jobs" of subsidized workers and the stability of subsidized companies. Government "jobs" are always an expense - they're meant to protect our bodies and the free market. And yes, Coca Cola is highly subsidized by the government due to its dependence on HFCS.

June 11 2012 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great article! Hard hitting, to the point, with some of that Motley humor sprinkled on.
Wellness Counselor

June 11 2012 at 10:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After all of this, we still have the problem of beet sugar made from genetically altered beets!!!!! Why can't we just go back to real cane sugar? Probably because the U.S. doesn't grow it any more. Real estate in Hawaii that was cane fields are now developed. If we could get non-gmo beets, I would not mind at all using beet sugar. Again, Monsanto is the PROBLEM!

June 11 2012 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

why don't we label regular sugar as "high sucrose cane sugar?"
wouldn't that be consistent?

June 11 2012 at 9:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree that that stuff shouldn't be called sugar too. It's not sugar, but why not just call it corn sweetner, why are they so bent on the word "sugar"?
I really don't care anything about the suffix, though, as long as the word "corn" still remains so I can continue to avoid it due to the fact that monsanto has all the corn in this country, as well as many others on this planet, genetically modified.
I also believe that our FDA will sell out to the highest bidder. Based on the fact that they're allowing MSG listed under every alias in the book, as well as aspartame which is PROVEN to cause brain tumors and legions, in foods and drinks consumed by nearly all Americans in some form or another, I have absolutely no faith in their looking out for our well being as humans.

June 11 2012 at 1:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rick Brueckner

Just like anything else in the country now people like the mayor of NYC hop on a political save the people band wagon and claim he will save all the people from this evil product.
Of course the problem will not be solved because obeasity is caused by the choice people make to eat and drink the things that are sweet in large amounts.
The idots like the Mayor want to save us from ourselves. In other words he wants to be king and dictator of what we eat, drink smoke, and drive.
I say ditch the Nazi food police and all their controlling ideas.
This is a free country......Isn't it!?

June 10 2012 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Rick Brueckner's comment

This is a free country, or at least it used to sort of be.
What I dont' get, and maybe you can help me to understand this, is why Americans are not educated on REAL nutrition. Look around you, most Americans are grossly overweight, and I mean grossly in every sense of the word. We are walking talking toxic waste dumps en route to handing our life savings over to the medical industry at some point in our lives when our bodies can't take anymore and we become mortally ill.
You call that freedom, I call it cattle farming.

June 11 2012 at 1:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Yes, HFCS is bad for you, but so is sugar. So is a lot of things that the government promotes. In the end people make their own decisions. That is why I read the ingredients before I buy anything. I don't need the government to tell me what I should or should not eat, they don't have a spotless record.

June 10 2012 at 1:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to crisafugate's comment

What's bad is that the FDA will allow MSG to be called anything that they want to call it, provided that it contains no more than 90% MSG. Make sure you know what you're reading on those lables.

And I find it disturbing that all the gums I used to enjoy as a kid are now sweetened with aspartame which is a poison, to put it bluntly. The methyl esters in aspartame literally turn into a wood alcohol, which is "poison", when it's introduced to the body. No I cannot allow my children to chew any of these gums, as well as many, many other products that now contain this brain eating substance. Trust me...there are things in products we consume that are far worse than simple "sugar".

June 11 2012 at 1:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Are we that stupid? Let's quit shooting ourselves on the foot for trying to appease the environmentalists and now the governmental food menu arrangers.

June 09 2012 at 9:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply