Sugar Baron Goes Sour on High Fructose Corn Syrup

The agriculture-focused Capital Press carried a rather unsurprising story yesterday: Sugar farmers are pleased that beverage makers are replacing high fructose corn syrup with ordinary sucrose (cane and beet sugar). One example: The San Francisco school district announced that its chocolate milk will switch sweeteners beginning next month. As with most of these moves, this one is based on hearsay and pseudoscience. And for a great example of who’s spreading the sweet nothings, look no further than Sugar Association CEO Andrew Briscoe.
Briscoe told the Capital Press that sucrose is “the only sweetener that’s all natural,” has “only 15 calories per teaspoon,” and “it’s a sweetener you can pronounce.” Sound like a bunch of hooey? That’s because it is. First, the Food and Drug Administration has approved of the use of the term “natural” to describe high fructose corn syrup. Second, high fructose corn syrup has 15 calories per teaspoon, just like sucrose.
And third, you can pronounce high fructose corn syrup – and so can lots of news anchors, apparently. But whether something is two syllables long or six doesn’t mean anything.
This is really nothing more than another overly simplistic Michael Pollan “food rule.” Heard of calcium lactate? It’s found in aged cheeses and some baking powders. And it’s part of an FDA list of hundreds of sometimes hard-to-pronounce ingredients that the agency classifies as “Generally Recognized as Safe”—a classification that it also applies to high fructose corn syrup. Looks like a strikeout for Briscoe.
Even Marion Nestle, no friend of food companies, remarks that these sugar swaps don’t have much substance: “[I]t’s really just sugar and the switch to sucrose is about marketing, not health.” While it may only happen once in a blue moon, we think Marion the Contrarian is right on target. As for the boss of Big Sugar, we have to hope any marketing strategy that’s this short on substance will eventually dissolve.

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