Sound science or attack on corn syrup? Sugar industry can't have it both ways

Makers of high fructose corn syrup, derived from corn, say it is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar.

Story highlights

  • John Bode says that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been unfairly attacked
  • Bode: HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar
  • Bode: But the sugar industry can't have it both ways

Last week, the president of The Sugar Association complained on CNN.com that he is "frustrated" by bad science that he says is "misleading consumers" about the negative health effects of sucrose, sometimes called table sugar. Fair enough.

It is true that too often, the news media and others either overreact to, or misinterpret, studies that portray sugar or other sweeteners in a negative light. The makers of high fructose corn syrup -- my members -- are often the victims of alarmist studies or reporting, too.

But just sentences later, after bemoaning the unfair treatment of sugar, the author takes aim at high fructose corn syrup. He attempts, once again, to blame high fructose corn syrup uniquely for health issues, such as rising obesity rates, while giving sugar a pass. He claims sucrose is a "natural product," but somehow nutritionally equivalent high fructose corn syrup is not.

John Bode

So, hold on a minute. The sugar industry can't have it both ways.

Either you are on the side of sound science and truly educating consumers or you are just another commercial interest trying to deflect criticism and take pot shots at another sweetener.

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Moreover, one would assume by the author's high-minded appeal for a "credible discussion" about sugars in the diet would mean that the sugar industry supports consumer education.

For example, facts espoused by the American Medical Association and other leading health authorities show that table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally equivalent. They have the exact same amount of calories. Many consumers don't know that.

But when our industry communicated that message, the Sugar Association and its members sued us. A judge ruled that parts of their lawsuit were a SLAPP, meaning a "strategic lawsuit against public participation" -- an attempt at censorship, pure and simple.

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And when respected physicians have published peer-reviewed research, concluding that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally equivalent, the sugar industry has attacked them personally. So much for supporting a "credible discussion."

Unlike the sugar industry, the position and practice of the Corn Refiners Association and the makers of high fructose corn syrup is not to blame scientists, the news media or other sweeteners for the challenges associated with, in some instances, too much consumption of sugars of all types. Nor is it to try to silence others who are attempting to get consumers the facts.

We believe that Americans need to practice moderation in their consumption of all calories, including those that come from sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Ideally, that is part of an active lifestyle in which calories consumed are in balance with calories burned.

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