Trade restrictions on imported sugar that to aim protect America's 4,714 sugar growers from foreign competition cost American consumers about $3.7 billion annually. Meanwhile the federal subsidies for corn—used to produce high fructose corn syrup—average around $5 billion per year.
Now Big Sugar and Big Corn are squared off in a California court room charging that each is lying about the other's products. Specifically Big Sugar is worried that the Corn Refiners Association's effort to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar" has caused consumers to think twice about eating cane and beet sugar. As the Associated Press reports:
Its ad campaign featured a TV commercial with a father walking with his daughter across a cornfield and saying that he's reassured by experts that high fructose corn syrup is the same as cane sugar.
"Your body can't tell the difference," he says. "Sugar is sugar."
That didn't go over well with the Western Sugar Cooperative and other sugar processors, who sued the corn refiners and Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. for false advertising. They are seeking as much as $2 billion.
Corn refiners and the two agribusiness giants countersued, charging the sugar industry with making false and misleading statements that included a comment that high fructose corn syrup is as addictive as crack cocaine. They are seeking $530 million.
Jurors will hear from experts on both sides of the debate, getting a mix of science and spin.
Whatever the spin, the science is clear: There is no essential difference in the way that the human body digests either. As I reported earlier:
A 2012 review article in the journal Advances in Nutrition summarized this research: "a broad scientific consensus has emerged that there are no metabolic or endocrine response differences between HFCS and sucrose related to obesity or any other adverse health outcome. This equivalence is not surprising given that both of these sugars contain approximately equal amounts of fructose and glucose, contain the same number of calories, possess the same level of sweetness, and are absorbed identically through the gastrointestinal tract." Another 2012 review article, in the Journal of Obesity, concluded, "In the past decade, a number of research trials have demonstrated no short-term differences between HFCS and sucrose in any metabolic parameter or health related effect measured in human beings including blood glucose, insulin, leptin, ghrelin and appetite."
Sugar is sucrose, which is half fructose, half glucose. High-fructose corn syrup is about 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
As it happens, the Food and Drug Administration has already ruled that sugar is a solid, dry, crystallized food. So how about "corn molasses" then?
In any case, the real scandal is the amount of subsidies both Sugar Daddies are pulling down from Uncle Sugar.