Does corn syrup by any other name taste as sweet? Of course. Is it as legal? That’s up for debate.
Last year, a commercial made by the corn industry featured a dad worried whether high fructose corn syrup was safe for his daughter to consume. After consulting “medical and nutrition experts” though, he learned that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.” ’Corn sugar,’ by the way, is the preferred term of those trying to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as something Americans aren’t worried will kill them or make them fat.
A group of sugar farmers and refiners objected to the tactic—and brought a lawsuit to back it up. The group says the ad mentioned above, along with other, similar TV, print and online advertisements, amount to false advertising because sugar and high fructose corn syrup are not the same thing. The corn industry filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall heard arguments for and against yesterday.
Adam Fox, attorney for Big Sugar, pointed to a 1997 case related to the export of high fructose corn syrup to Mexico, in which a corn industry affidavit stated that “like the horse and the automobile, sugar and (high fructose corn syrup) are two different products in terms of their physical and functional characteristics, as well as in their production process, distribution and commercial application.”
The corn folks responded that this statement was being taken out of context, as it applied only to the physical characteristics of high fructose corn syrup, not how the body processed it. They also said the ‘sugar is sugar’ ad campaign was protected First Amendment speech, since it’s part of a ‘national conversation’ about the merits and drawbacks of high fructose corn syrup and sugar in general.
I’m sympathetic to the sugar industry’s argument, even if it is just a ploy for market share. But apparently the evidence is mixed on that high fructose corn syrup is any worse for the body than sugar. Even Michael Jacobson, director of the crazy food nanny group Center for Science in the Public Interest, says there’s no evidence that corn syrup is any worse for the body than sugar (in a statement from 2008, CSPI said “the special harmfulness of HFCS has become one of those urban myths that sounds right, but is basically wrong”). A 2010 Princeton University study, however, found rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those gobbling down table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same. It also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in dangerous blood fats called triglycerides.
There’s no timeline just yet on when the judge will rule on the motion to dismiss.