by Marion Nestle
Oct 27 2011

Sugar 1, HFCS 0, at least for the moment

The public relations firm for the Sugar Association, Levick Strategic Communications, sent me a press release celebrating the victory of sugar producers against corn refiners over the question of whether high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be renamed “corn sugar.”

A federal judge ruled that the case brought by the Sugar Association against the Corn Refiners can proceed to trial. If you want the details, see the  judge’s “order denying in part and granting in part defendents’ motion to dismiss”, and “order granting defendents’ motion to strike.”

I cannot even begin to tell you how funny I think all this is.

The Sugar Association represents growers of sugar beets and cane.  They produce table sugar—sucrose—a double sugar composed of glucose and fructose linked together.  In the body, sucrose is quickly split to glucose and fructose.

The Corn Refiners represent processors of corn (obviously).  They produce HFCS, a syrup made of glucose and fructose.

From a biological standpoint, glucose and fructose are the same no matter where they come from.  Biochemically, sucrose, glucose, and fructose are all sugars.

HFCS used to be a lot cheaper than sucrose, but what with all the corn used for ethanol, the price gap has narrowed.  As a result, and because HFCS has gotten a bad reputation, companies are dropping it in favor of sucrose.  The Corn Refiners are upset about that and think a name change would help.

The Sugar Association thinks it’s just great that HFCS has a bad reputation and does not want table sugar to be confused with corn sugar.

Both of these trade associations are acting totally in self-interest.  Neither cares at all about public health.  The lawsuit is entirely about corporate profits, not public welfare.

The Sugar Association is famous for protecting a system of quotas and tariffs that transfers money from American consumers to the coffers of sugar producers.  Its aggressive actions in its own self interest are legendary (see, for example, its threatening letter to me when Food Politics came out—this and my reply are posted at the end of the About section).

And I’ve written previously about the Corn Refiners’ consistently bad self-interested behavior.

Both trade associations behave with appalling disregard for the public.

In this case, the public interest is clear: everyone would be healthier eating less table sugar and HFCS.


  • Cathy Richards

    If anyone doubts that the food industry is politicized, this is a great introduction to the concept. I wonder how much public money is tied up in these shenanigans.

  • As long as they’re wasting their money on each other, I’ll take it! But then again, like Cathy pointed out, how much of it really is public money via subsidies?

  • I don’t have much doubt that at this point in history, sugar has caused more deaths and more disease than tobacco ever did, and yet it is virtually uncontrolled. Sugar SHOULD be a controlled substance.

  • Joe

    @ Debra
    You are aware that sugar is in virtually every food, right?

  • Anthro

    @Debra – While I agree with Marion that most of us consume too much sugar, I have to ask you for some citations that support your contention. I looked at your website and you don’t seem to have any credentials beyond having worked in health food stores. I’m sure you mean well, but please consider reading Ms. Nestle’s books if you really want to know more about human nutrition.

  • Suzanne

    @Joe @Anthro – since Debra is calling for sugar to be a controlled substance, you can be sure she is aware that sugar is ubiquitous in processed food and is dangerous. An intelligent person with analytical skills can learn a great deal about nutrition from a wide variety of sources – including Dr. Nestle’s books. Debra is sounding the alarm about sugar – she IS informed.

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