HFCS Producers: “Nobody likes us!”

Conagra, Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, and Corn Products International are all whining of late. The reason? The New York Times explains:

Hunt’s ketchup is among the latest in a string of major-brand products that have replaced the vilified sweetener. Gatorade, several Kraft salad dressings, Wheat Thins, Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Pepsi Throwback, Mountain Dew Throwback and the baked goods at Starbucks, to name a few, are all now made with regular sugar.

What started as a narrow movement by proponents of natural and organic foods has morphed into a swell of mainstream opposition, thanks in large part to tools of modern activism like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter and movies like “Food, Inc.” and “King Corn.”

As a result, sales of the ingredient have fallen in the United States. Charlie Mills, an analyst at Credit Suisse, says that the combined United States sales of high-fructose corn syrup for Archer Daniels Midland, Tate & Lyle and Corn Products International were down 9 percent in 2009, compared with 2007. A further decline is expected this year, he says.

This is happening even though many scientists say that high-fructose corn syrup is no worse for people than sugar, which costs some 40 percent more.

“Manufacturers are tired of hearing about the e-mails, the 800-number calls and the letters,” says Phil Lempert, editor of the Lempert Report, which focuses on supermarket trends. “People don’t want it, so why fight them?”

The Corn Refiners Association, which represents makers of the syrup like A.D.M., Cargill and Corn Products Internatiional, has spent the last six years trying to convince Americans that high-fructose corn syrup is a natural ingredient — made from corn! — that’s really no different from sugar.

It’s difficult for me to get all worked up about the problem that HFCS is having. Having the corn refiners complain in the press that they are being misrepresented is akin to a driver who was doing 120 mph in a residential zone complain because they were incorrectly pulled over for their car failing an emissions test.

While the scientific claims that HFCS is just sugar are correct, let me explain the situation in full here.

In the early 70′s, the U.S. Government, through subsidies and grants, created farming programs that allowed for cheaper corn and soy. This is understandable, as these products have longer shelf lives, and allow for cheaper food in the long run.

However, taking advantage of these programs, agri-business decided (in part) to use their new found government largesse to make high fructose corn syrup. Lots of it. From a previous post:

Below is the pounds per capita consumption of sweetners here in the US, one in 1980 when HFCS took off, and in 2004.

Total caloric sweeteners
1980 – 120 lbs.
2004 – 142 lbs.

refined sugar
1980 – 84 lbs.
2004 – 61 lbs.

1980 – 35 lbs.
2004 – 78 lbs.

1980 – 1
2004 – 1.4

(The above information comes from Marion Nestle’s book “What to eat”, which in turn came from the USDA)

What this shows, to me at least, is that the primary reason for the rise in obesity has more to do with the over-consumption of sugar than it does with how our bodies react to either table sugar or HFCS.

So, the Corn Refiners of America are on the hook for providing to consumers a glut of sugar onto the market. Or, to put it another way, the Corn Refiners of America have provided us an excess of empty calories.

The punch line? They did it on the taxpayers dime.

Yeah, cry me a river at the pain they are feeling now.

Now, we can talk about cause and effect, and supply and demand. There are valid and reasonable arguments to be made within these arenas. But in my mind, what’s not up for debate is that the excess amount of sugar that HFCS providers have given us over the past generation have had a distinct result upon our waistline.

Besides, ketchup tastes MUCH better with refined sugar rather than corn syrup, HFCS or otherwise.