Since the debate over sodas and other beverages has become a frequent contributor to the daily news cycle, the Sugar Association has tried to put an end to the inaccurate description of these beverages as “sugary” and “sugar-sweetened” in news stories, blogs and elsewhere.
In a nutshell, we ask that reporters and bloggers consider these facts:
1. The majority (about 92 percent) of the caloric, sweetened beverages in the United States are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), not sugar.
2. Sugar and HFCS are not the same.
Unfortunately, our observation of these facts has been largely discounted or ignored because we are representatives of the sugar industry—the very industry wrongly maligned by the inaccurate characterizations of the targeted beverages.
But in recent weeks, one very significant development has turned the tide—if ever so slightly—and grabbed the media’s attention.
On May 30th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) denied the Corn Refiners Association’s petition to authorize “corn sugar” as another name for HFCS because “use of the term ‘sugar’ to describe HFCS, a product that is a syrup, would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.”
The FDA also explained that changing the name from HFCS to “corn sugar” could “pose a public health concern” for “individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption” because they “have associated ‘corn sugar’ to be an acceptable ingredient to their health when ‘high-fructose corn syrup’ is not.”
At last, news outlets and bloggers covering the debate have started to take notice. Here’s what they’re saying:
Food Identity Theft’s Linda Bonvie wrote:
Kudos go out this week to Brian McFadden, writer/illustrator of The Strip, a weekly cartoon featured in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times. While reporters, editorial writers and opinion columnists of all stripe have repeatedly – and erroneously – used the term “sugary drinks” in referring to the supersize sodas that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban from being sold in various venues, it took cartoonist McFadden to correctly characterize them. His June 17 cartoon “Amended Stop and Frisk Procedures” depicts new groups that could be frisked by police in order to make the practice, which has been the subject of considerable protest in the Black and Latino communities, more politically acceptable. Among them: “Heavyset citizens – likely to be carrying more than 20 ounces of high fructose corn syrup subcutaneously.”
On June 7th, Dr. Michael Goran expressed his concerns about this subject on Science 2.0:
“The corn industry propounds that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are the same but when our lab at USC took up the question, we found a far murkier and distressing picture… Our study showed that certain popular sodas and other beverages contain a fructose content approaching 65% of sugars. This works out to be 30% more fructose than if the sodas were made with natural sugar… New evidence shows that large amounts of fructose are harmful because of the way fructose is metabolized. Fructose is taken up almost exclusively by the liver where it can be re-packaged as fat and produces harmful by-products in the process.”
Doctors Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen of Cleveland Clinic also acknowledged the difference in an article for the Idaho Statesman:
When tobacco giant Philip Morris changed its corporate name to Altria Group, it seemed they were trying to dodge the stigma of selling cigarettes that was attached to the original brand… Now the high-fructose corn syrup folks are trying to pull the same kind of switcheroo. They want HFCS to be renamed “corn sugar.” Fortunately, the Corn Refiners Association got shot down by the Food and Drug Administration. The name stays the same for now.
The Huffington Post took steps toward acknowledging the difference in an article posted last week:
Nota bene: Sugar in commercial beverages comes in many forms. Though we used white cane sugar for illustrative purposes, sugar in these drinks can come in the form of high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar or even concentrated fruit juice.
And again in a piece penned by contributor Jonathon Galland:
In its ability to pack on the body fat, high-fructose corn syrup appears to be worse than sugar. Research from Princeton University looked at how high-fructose corn syrup increases body fat, which I will discuss below.
It might seem that this much-maligned sweetener would have seen its day. Instead, high-fructose corn syrup continues to be a powerhouse, sweetening the big soft drinks and sports drinks. It adds a touch of sweetness to ketchup and provides stickiness to barbeque sauce. Americans suck back 60 pounds per person, on average, of high-fructose corn syrup each year.
And earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune made (albeit brief) mention of the distinction for the first time:
In recent months, "sugar-sweetened beverages" (often sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup) have come under attack for their contribution to obesity. Whether this label should be applied to juice is subject to debate, with some organizations counting only juices with sugar added.
While some of these may come across as obligatory disclaimers rather than sincere attempts to educate readers, at least the facts are no longer being ignored entirely. And now, if people don’t want to take our word for it, they won’t have to.