High Fructose Corn Syrup Lobby Reinvents Greenwashing

The video below is the funniest propaganda I’ve seen since the infamous “CO2, We call it life” shenegins a couple years ago. It’s almost as good as something you might see on The Onion.

In case you’re wondering what’s wrong with this picture, read on.

First of all, the ad is correct in saying that HFCS is not actually all that different from cane sugar. But it’s not at all clear that those minor differences haven’t affected human health. Many scientists note that the fact that HFCS contains separate molecules of fructose and glucose whereas in sucrose (the most common form of less refined table sugar) the molecules are bound together. Whether or not this means anything, there is an obvious correlation between the introduction of HFCS and the rise in rates of obesity and diabetes in the US.
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but sugary junk food, whether made with cane sugar or HFCS is certainly bad for you. Diabetes and obesity obviously bring with them significant societal externalities in the form of health care costs (often borne by employers), reduced happiness in life, productivity, and many other things.
The questions this raises are as follows:
1) What’s an industry to do when it’s obviously making society sick? I’m talking about all junk/fast food companies, not just the corn lobby.
2) Can it evolve in a positive direction or does it require the government to step in and force regulation?
3) Why spend buckets of money on bizarre propaganda which basically tells people that thinking is wrong?
Incidentally, HFCS is popular because it’s cheap. The reason it’s cheap is largely because of import restrictions on sugar from Brazil, Cuba and elsewhere. Naturally the corn lobby would oppose removing those restrictions, but if it’s indeed proven that HFCS is worse than regular sugar then I’d say it’s high time the government reevaluated our sugar tariffs.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

10 responses

  1. OK ok, so say they’re right… HFCS is not any worse for you than suger. STILL the sweetener content in the American diet is waayyyy to high in either case! It’s just cheap filler! Cheaper to put a percentage of sweetener in the jar than to top it off with more sauce (or whatever product). That’s all, just cheap filler rather than product.

  2. Very well thought out commercial from a marketing perspective. It portrays the concerned mom as the worry-wart type without any substance to back up her claims of HFCS’s ill effects. The unconcerned mom is confident, unblinking, and appears to being enjoying life without the unnecessary self-imposed worries of the other.
    It’s a powerful message, having the concerned mom capitulate, enjoying the lifestyle of moderate HFCS consumption. This is well orchestrated and targeted to the mom-demographic.

  3. The difference between HFCS (which you’ve misacronymed in your post as HFSC) and sugar may have to do with how full each makes you feel.

    Disclaimer: I am not a chemist!

    …but as I understand it, the glycosidic bonds between individual sugar molecules come in assorted flavors, which have additional constituents off to the side. This is why you need different enzymes to break down sucrose, lactose, and other polysaccharides.

    Now, when you do break those bonds, those little extra constituents from the bond are left over; and in some cases, those constituents themselves interact with other bits of your biochemistry.

    In particular, my understanding is that the by-products from breaking down sucrose feed into the mechanism that produces satiation. Thus, the same food sweetened with HFCS will make you feel less full than if it’s sweetened with real sugar.

    I believe this is a somewhat controversial theory, and the evidence isn’t conclusive yet, but it certainly would explain the correlation.

  4. Anonymous – do some research, that wikipedia article is an excellent collection of facts. It also clearly states that this is only a corelation. Wikipedia is “obviously” a far more reliable source than you!

  5. Hello,
    THe study this commercial is citing was conducted by the Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy at the University of Maryland. Unfortunately, a study conducted by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis stating that certain plastics were not harmful was actually funded by the American Plastics Council.
    I am interested in knowing who funded this study? I am guessing some corn trade association.
    Here’s the abstract from the study:
    A critical examination of the evidence relating high fructose corn syrup and weight gain.
    Forshee RA, Storey ML, Allison DB, Glinsmann WH, Hein GL, Lineback DR, Miller SA, Nicklas TA, Weaver GA, White JS.
    The use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has increased over the past several decades in the United States while overweight and obesity rates have risen dramatically. Some scientists hypothesize that HFCS consumption has uniquely contributed to the increasing mean body mass index (BMI) of the U.S. population. The Center for Food, Nutrition, and Agriculture Policy convened an expert panel to discuss the published scientific literature examining the relationship between consumption of HFCS or “soft drinks” (proxy for HFCS) and weight gain. The authors conducted original analysis to address certain gaps in the literature. Evidence from ecological studies linking HFCS consumption with rising BMI rates is unreliable. Evidence from epidemiologic studies and randomized controlled trials is inconclusive. Studies analyzing the differences between HFCS and sucrose consumption and their contributions to weight gain do not exist. HFCS and sucrose have similar monosaccharide compositions and sweetness values. The fructose:glucose (F:G) ratio in the U.S. food supply has not appreciably changed since the introduction of HFCS in the 1960s. It is unclear why HFCS would affect satiety or absorption and metabolism of fructose any differently than would sucrose. Based on the currently available evidence, the expert panel concluded that HFCS does not appear to contribute to overweight and obesity any differently than do other energy sources. Research recommendations were made to improve our understanding of the association of HFCS and weight gain.
    Teresa Holler
    Author of “Holler for Your Health”
    Are hidden chemicals harming your kids while making you sick, tired, or fat? Check out http://www.holler4health.com

  6. Let’s also not forget the tremendous burden raising corn puts on our agriculture system. By not rotating crops beyond corn and soy, farmer increasingly rely on pesticides…runoff to the Mississippi has resulted in a deadzone in the Gulf of MX the size of New Jersey.

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