Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put the kibosh on a plan to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. While the words corn sugar don't exactly ring in the air like fairy bells, the fine folks at the Corn Refiners Association are understandably eager to get out from under the bad publicity that their signature product has garnered recently.
The Sugar Association has decided to keep the debate about who gets to use the word sugar classy and civil. Just kidding, they're suing the pants off the Corn Refiners Association and saying stuff like this in the press:
Dan Callister, a lawyer for the Sugar Association, said the FDA's decision confirms his group's position that sugar and high fructose corn syrup are two distinct products.
"What's going on here is basically a con game to suggest otherwise," Callister said. "What do con men do? They normally try to change their name. The FDA has thankfully stopped that."
The FDA denied the petition for a name change on technical grounds. Officially, the term sugar means what most people think it means: something dry and crystallized, not liquid.
But why are the anger and namecalling? Maybe it's because the Big Sugar folks know the line that separates them from high fructose corn syrup is very, very thin.
In fact, even the biggest food scolds out there, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Marion Nestle, have gone out of their way to note that—nutritionally speaking—the really isn't much difference between sugar and corn syrup.
The movement to blame high fructose corn syrup for American obesity actually sprung from a misunderstanding. Both table sugar and corn syrup are about half glucose and half fructose. Corn syrup has a little more fructose (55 percent to table sugar's 50 percent), thus the name.
And fructose, by itself, does indeed seem to have negative health consequences. But in a 2009 story in the London Times, someone confused scientific findings about pure fructose with the possible effects of high fructose corn syrup (remember, half glucose). The error was repeated over and over, and the next thing you know high fructose corn syrup is now blamed for every kid's fat butt and every adult's lumpy thighs.
High fructose corn syrup is everywhere because it's cheap. It's cheap because it's protected from competition and subsidized up the wazoo by, well, you. But the sugar people should probably clamber down from their high horses; their product is just as unhealthy (and just as delicious!) and they receive some pretty unsavory supports and subsidies of their own.