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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sugar Sues High Fructose Corn Syrup

by Sara Novak, Columbia
coke machine photo

Photo: colros

It's about the lesser of two evils, isn't it? But when push comes to shove, how different is sugar from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?

The Western Sugar Cooperative
is claiming that the two are in fact very different. It recently filed suit against sugar refiners for misleading consumers in calling HFCS corn sugar, according to the Des Moines Register and as discussed on Food Politics. "The lawsuit names as defendants Archer Daniels Midland Co., Cargill Inc., and other major corn syrup processors as well as the Corn Refiners Association."

So, is it fair to call HFCS sugar? Not according to the Western Sugar Cooperative.

"This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple," said Inder Mathur, president and CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative, the grower group that filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court along with the Michigan Sugar Co. and C&H Sugar Co. Inc. "If consumers are concerned about your product, then you should improve it or explain its benefits, not try to deceive people about its name or distort scientific facts."

Corn Refiners Petition to Be Called Corn Sugar

I wrote in March that the Corn Refiners Association had asked the FDA to change the name HFCS to corn sugar. The Corn Refiner's Association lobbied hard for the name change because more and more people are refusing to buy products containing HFCS. As a result, many food manufacturers have stopped using HFCS and, instead, have replaced it with sugar. The sky rocketing price of corn, which has shot up nearly 50 percent in the past couple of months, has also been a factor. But it turns out that an existing FDA regulation makes the name change difficult. Marion Nestle wrote on Huffington Post that the name was already taken:

The Corn Refiners have just petitioned the FDA to be allowed to use the name "corn sugar" to apply to both glucose/dextrose and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). But the existing definition seems to exclude HFCS. While HFCS is about half glucose, it is also about half fructose, and its manufacture from corn starch requires one more enzyme.

Here's the FDA regulation
But even still, HFCS has been using the name in its new advertising push, which is no small campaign. Corn Refiners spent nearly $30 million on advertising in 2008.

But how different are HFCS and sugar? Let's be clear: sugar and HFCS share the same biochemistry. Marion Nestle defines:

Sucrose: a double sugar of 50% glucose and 50% fructose linked together HFCS: a syrup of about 45% glucose and 55% fructose, separated

However, HFCS goes through highly unnatural processing. The process starts off with corn kernels. The corn is spun at a high velocity and combined with three other enzymes: alpha-amylase, glucoamylase, and xylose isomerase, so that it forms a thick syrup that's way sweeter than sugar.

But in the end it's all about market share. Each group wants a bigger piece of the economic pie and as public perception of these ingredients evolves, so too does the name by which each group would like to be referred.