What's in a Name?

If you have gotten into the habit of scanning the list of ingredients of the processed food you buy at your local supermarket, get ready to look for something new. Or more to the point—not. “Corn sugar” may soon be showing up in the fine print along the side or the bottom of your favorite soft drink, “healthy” fruit-like snack, cereal box or thousands of other food products.

What’s actually new about “corn sugar”? Nothing but the name. You might know it better by its previous moniker: high-fructose corn syrup. Since the late 1970s high-fructose corn syrup has been replacing sugar as the sweetener of choice for profit-minded food conglomerates. Its cost is kept artificially low by the nation’s off-kilter crop subsidy programs, and high-fructose corn syrup has essentially driven actual sugar (a crop with subsidy issues of its own) out of the market.


In recent years, however H.F.C.S. has begun to get a bad name, hence the desire of corn “refiners” to change it. Some nutritionists and scientists believe it has played an important and detrimental role in the nation’s diabetes and obesity epidemics, and many consumers, alarmed by this association have begun to seek out products that are sweetened with actual sugar. So far, so good: well-informed consumers making rational market choices about the products they buy.

That, of course, may be the least optimal kind of consumer as far as the Corn Refiners Association (membership apparently limited to Cargill, ADM, Corn Products Int'l) is concerned. So rather than looking into the veracity of the possible link between poor health outcomes and H.F.C.S., the industry has settled for the old-fashioned strategy of muddying the waters. It has appealed to the Food and Drug Administration for a name change. First it requested, plain old “corn syrup.” More recently, however, wiser, more market-savvy heads apparently decided that rebranding did not move far away enough from the original, now odious association, so “corn sugar” has been formally requested by the Corn Refiners Association.

The industry claims it wishes to make a name change to resolve consumer confusion regarding H.F.C.S., but it is clear that consumer confusion is actually the outcome they seek. Few consumers who have bothered to study the possible health implications of a diet too rich in H.F.C.S. are confused at all; they know they don’t want it in their food. To its credit, the FDA has so far resisted the name adulteration, reasoning properly that rubber-stamping such an obvious rebranding scam would further reduce the agency’s credibility with consumers. A final determination has not been made, but the FDA should summarily dismiss this disingenuous appeal, and the agency should immediately go after food producers who, too impatient to wait for FDA approval, have already made the switch to “corn sugar” on the ingredient lists of their products.

The nation has had a hard enough time confronting the alarming health problems emerging out of the “normal” American diet. Hiding away one of the suspects most implicated in the crisis behind a new identity may continue to benefit the corn industry but will further frustrate efforts to help Americans eat better, stay healthier and live longer.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
7 years 1 month ago
My guess this may back fire for the corn syrup/corn sugar/high fructose corn syrup industry.  My guess that many are not aware of the connection between these sweeteners and diabetes and this may start an awareness.  The internet works in amazing ways and instead of suppressing the negatives of HFCS it may enlighten them.  

Maybe we could kill a lot of the subsidies for farm products.  From what I heard ethanol from sugar is better than ethanol from corn.  These subsidies has raised the price of corn in a lot of the world and is hurting a lot of poor people in places like Mexico.
7 years 1 month ago
We need to get rid of farm subsidies and we need to get rid of the tariffs on cane sugar.  We also should get rid of these laws that force companies to put all of this useless info on their products.  What a waste of money. 
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 1 month ago
David says (#3): "Fine, but what's this got to do with Catholicism".

Well, I guess if Catholicism is only about going to Church and believing certain things

But what if Catholicism is about day to day living and all the problems and joys that make up our lives, including eating.  Christ did become incarnate, you know, which makes everything about being alive and physical bodies sacred.

Food is the most elemental thing about being alive.  How we ever got to the place where we allow large corporations to poison this gift is beyond me, and indicative of just how spiritually lost we are.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years 1 month ago
Kevin Clarke is right to cite our out of kilter subsidies of sugar, both cane and evidently corn, that distort the marketplace for corporate profits of the favored groups at the expense of others. (Ethanol is another of these boondoggle subsidies that do nothing for the environment but transfer consumers' money to favored groups.) Yet I have always heard that excess sugar, including cane sugar as well as corn-derived sugar, contributes to diabetes and obesity. All concerned about these health issues should avoid excess sugar, period. All who choose not to control their weight should bear the cost of extra health care that their choice requires. Yet I really wonder how many consumers know what H.F.C.S. even means, much less whether it is good or bad for them? It might even backfire on an industry group trying to disguise the product, as it would likely be easier to inform the consumer that sugar from corn (corn sugar) is worse for health than cane sugar. That moniker and distinction they might more quickly and easily understand and recall than corn fructose, whatever that is to them.
7 years 1 month ago
Amecia's mission statement

America is a Catholic media ministry that interprets the Church for the world and the world for the Church. It is a forum for discussion of religion, society, politics and culture from a Catholic perspective. The Ignatian traditions of "finding God in all things" and the promotion of justice shape our commentary. Founded in 1909 by the Jesuit order and directed today by Jesuits and lay colleagues, America is a resource for spiritual renewal and social analysis guided by the spirit of charity.
its not simply about " church news"

I think even most people in the food industry think this whole "corn sugar" marketing campaign is bit over the top. 
Todd Flowerday
7 years 1 month ago
"We also should get rid of these laws that force companies to put all of this useless info on their products.  What a waste of money."

Could be.

But it's also good business. I don't buy a darn thing from someone I don't know, especially a corporation, if I'm not told what exactly it is. The HFCS/corn sugar/corn poison can rot on the supermarket shelves as far as I'm concerned.

There's a lot of cool things to do with corn: bread, mix with rice, salsa, a salad with beans, boil it and eat on the cob, grill it, make muffins, make chowder, and especially pop it. Why the heck do we need processed sweetener or car fuel when sugar cane or hydrogen will probably work out just fine.


The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018