25 October 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup Propaganda

The TV ads put out by the Corn Refiners Association in support of high fructose corn syrup continue to drive me and many others crazy over how blatant commercial propaganda is spewed to the public. I've read online that the mere mention of HFCS in an online article, or perhaps even a blog entry like this, will result in the receipt of a stern and lengthy email or letter from the corn refiners touting the so-called misperceptions of the highly processed sweetener. The propaganda campaign is clearly serious business for these guys.

The industry argues the following virtues of HFCS:
- it's made from corn
- it's metabolized just like sugar
- it's OK in moderation
That's what you hear in the TV ads.

The industry letter goes further to argue:
- sugar is also a processed sweetener
- obesity stats rose, as they did in the U.S., in countries without HFCS consumption

It's conceivable that an intellectually lazy consumer could settle for these arguments and simply continue buying products with HFCS. But, with just a little bit of brain effort, it's easy to realize how both the propaganda and the ingredient are simply garbage.

HFCS is nearly ubiquitous. It's in almost every packaged food product, not just food items which people think of as sweet. If you just look at the ingredients lists, it's obviously in soda drinks, candy, and other sweet products, in startlingly high amounts. But, it's also in ketchup, bread, yogurt, and a surprisingly long list of products. It's in almost every food item at fast food joints and a lot of restaurants at all levels. This ubiquity of the ingredient makes it virtually impossible to consume it only in so-called "moderation". I believe someone would have to eat a diet which consciously omits all packaged foods and most restaurant foods to achieve such moderation. Very few Americans eat like this. Certainly, such conscientious consumers are not the target audience of the TV ads.

Sugar is not an acceptable comparable standard. There are all kinds of problems with sugar. Have we all forgotten sugar causes health threatening obesity, triggers type 2 diabetes, contains empty calories, makes teeth rot, and leads to hyperactivity in kids? HFCS aspires to be comparable to sugar? This rhetorical positioning of sugar as a virtuous standard is entirely misleading.

HFCS is a highly processed, artificial ingredient. There are all kinds of unappealing industrial processes and artificial chemicals involved in the production of HFCS. The US Food and Drug Administration negligently allows the word "natural" to be used for nearly anything. I think only the most ignorant consumers believe HFCS is anything approximating natural.

The corn used has many problems of its own.
  • Massive amounts of farmlands are forced into a monoculture. Agricultural diversity is utterly lost when only one crop is grown. Most American farmers are entirely unable to feed themselves.
  • Genetically modified seeds are widely used. Many people are concerned about the proliferation of crops which contain artificially manipulated DNA. Even worse, such crops have already been designed to not naturally reproduce, so farmers are forced to buy seeds from the industrial suppliers every year.
  • Government subsidies keep consumer prices low but destroy small farms. Only large, consolidated farms can survive under the federal government's colossal program.
  • Immense amounts of artificial fertilizer, poisonous pesticides, and herbicides are needed. More stalks of corn can now grow in the same space as a result of chemical innovations. But the cost of these chemicals arise in the residue that creeps into all our food, the sterilization of the soil, the short and long term health of farm workers, the pollution of America's rivers and watershed, and the dead zones in the oceans where the chemicals create biological imbalances across hundreds of miles.
  • The corn used is simply inedible. The corn used for food processing and for livestock feed is not the same kind of corn enjoyed by humans.
Current consumption levels of HFCS are blatantly unhealthy, for individuals and for our society. It's common sense that Americans are fat in large part because of the sweets we eat. Health care costs are spiraling out of control in part because of the preventable diseases due to obesity.

We should all recognize that the food industry uses HFCS only because it is cheap. Any other stated altruisms for its use are patent lies.

I've personally made efforts to reduce my consumption of HFCS, but I admit there are still products in my kitchen which contain it. I admit I still eat some food items from restaurants which contain it. It takes a monumental effort to avoid HFCS.

We need to be conscious consumers. We need to speak out against the industry's misleading propaganda. We need to help others be aware.

Don't fall for those annoying TV ads. Sweet surprise? Please.