Even Corn Syrup Officials Call Attempted HFCS Rebranding “Dishonest and Sneaky”

Corn SyrupMaybe you remember way back in 2010 when the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) put out silly commercials and tried to get the FDA to let them rebrand corn syrup as “corn sugar.”

If that CRA bid to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” and “natural” seemed a bit Orwellian to you, as Dr. Andrew Weil described it, you’re in good company. New documents show the Corn Refiners Association thought it was a bit of a stretch, too, with David Weintraub – the spokesman for corn syrup producer Archer Daniels Midland – describing the name change as “dishonest and sneaky.”

It’s good to see there are voices of conscience and reason in these corporate entities, but distressing that their voices don’t rise to the top.

The most public portion of this bid was a widely mocked ad blitz depicting corn syrup detractors as rude, snooty and uneducated in an attempt to convince Americans that corn syrup was “natural” and pretty much the same as sugar. And apparently that detractors are kind of judgemental jerks.

The attempted rebranding sparked a lawsuit between a group of sugar producers and the Corn Refiners Association, as the sugar producers claimed the CRA was misleading consumers. Then came a counter-suit from the CRA claiming the sugar companies had engaged in a nasty, decade-long smear campaign to make corn syrup seem particularly unhealthy. Like…more unhealthy than sugar.

The whole bizarre set of events and laughable commercials seem to have arisen because the Corn Refiners Association feared people were beginning to believe that high fructose corn syrup was to blame for the out-0f-control obesity epidemic. And they blamed sugar for promoting that perception. Whether one blames the obesity epidemic on the chemical makeup of HFCS or the subsidized affordability of corn syrup that mean it’s put in everything, the CRA opted to address the perception problem by just renaming the product entirely in a pretty transparent attempt to fool the public.

From the lawsuits came documents showing communications between corn syrup producers that indicate their own misgivings about calling corn syrup “natural.” In a Feb. 3, 2010 confidential memo with the words “Marketing Ploy” in the subject line, spokesman Weintraub said: “I think we’re unnecessarily asking for trouble by using the ‘natural’ language….I don’t think we really gain much in the mind of the audience or customers and I think it provides a point to ridicule the ads and the industry comes off as being disingenuous.”

“Disingenuous” for sure.

When the FDA rejected the corn syrup bid, they appear to have done so largely based on the texture and nature of corn syrup versus sugar. Sugar is a solid, dry, crystallized substance. Not a runny, viscous fluid. They then go on with language that, to the average layperson, sure as heck makes corn syrup seem like the exact opposite of “natural.”

“HFCS is an aqueous solution sweetener derived from corn after enzymatic hydrolysis of cornstarch, followed by enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose.”

Or, as the CRA may have said it in a commercial: “First we find the finest enzymatic hydrolysis tree and wait patiently until its dextrose fruit has reached the height of fructose before we harvest it from a stainless steel tap. Ahhhhh…from mother nature to your home. And your soda pop. And yougurt. And granola bars, and breakfast cereal, corn chips, children’s cough medicine, bread, sausages, pickles, pasta and pizza sauce, ketchup, pickled herring…”

Image Credit: Flickr/** RCB **

Eric Justian

Eric Justian is a professional writer living near the natural sugar sand beaches and singing sand dunes of Lake Michigan in Muskegon, Michigan. When he's not wrangling his kids or tapping at his computer, he likes to putter in his garden, catch king salmon from the Big Lake, or go pan fishing with his boys.As a successful blogger his main focus has been energy, Great Lakes issues and local food.Eric is a founding member of the West Michgian Jobs Group, a non-profit organization that evolved from a Facebook page called Yest to West Michigan Wind Power which now has over 8000 followers. West Michigan Jobs Group promotes independent businesses and sustainable industries in the West Michigan area. As the Executive Director of that organization he has advocated renewable energy as both a clean energy alternative for Michigan and a new industry with which to diversify our economy and spark Michigan innovation and jobs.