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Foods Dump High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Industry Plans New Ploys to Lure Consumers Back

The makers of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) dismiss studies showing that it may make you fatter than equivalent amounts of sugar. They’ve poured $30 million into an ad campaign portraying HFCS avoiders as uninformed busybodies trying to take away our favorite treats. But in spite of their best efforts, food manufacturers (hey, doesn’t that sound tasty–manufactured food!) are dumping HFCS in favor of sugar, with Hunt’s ketchup being the latest in a series of high-profile products now proudly waving a “No HFCS!” banner. Not surprisingly, the corn refining industry (another tasty-sounding phrase) is fighting back with a grand plan: they’ll change the name! Are we consumers really so easy to fool?

In a study published this past March, Princeton researchers found that corn syrup makes rats fatter than sugar, even when their overall caloric intake is the same. With HFCS found in so many products from salad dressing to yogurt, it’s tough to avoid, and consumers convinced that HFCS is contributing to our nation’s health problems have been petitioning the makers of those products to replace HFCS with sugar. Lately, the producers of Hunt’s, Starbuck’s baked goods, Gatorade, Ocean Spray cranberry juice and Wheat Thins have responded by dumping the ingredient. The industry’s response, as reported in Sunday’s New York Times, hasn’t changed–they claim that “a sugar is a sugar.”

But they are worried. In addition to that $30 million in advertising (you’ve probably seen the results), they’ve petitioned the FDA for a name change from HFCS to the more natural sounding “corn syrup.” Nothing about the ingredient–or the results of those Princeton studies–would change, but consumers, confused by food labeling and vaguely accustomed to distinguishing among different kinds of fats and grains, might be fooled.

The reasons to avoid corn syrup go far beyond dietary concerns–even if further research eventually finds the ingredient itself to be innocuous, it’s still the product of an enormous, highly subsidized industry that’s taken over much of our farmland and found its way into 25% of the foods available in your grocery store. Personally, I like a little corn syrup–as a southerner, I was raised to pour it on my pancakes–but I’d still prefer that the government not pay producers to hide it in the batter.

So far, the FDA is withholding approval of the newly renamed, completely unimproved “corn syrup.” Just the fact that the industry has low enough to consider an attempt to temporarily fool customers into a different perception of the same product seems like a sign that the tide has turned against HFCS. But investors in the corn refining business can still sleep at night, and corn won’t be piling up outside the refineries: apparently HFCS consumption in Mexico is expected to be up 50% this year.

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