Citizens Addicted to a “Sugar” Daddy

130501_SUG_ColaDrinkThe press release wires recently buzzed with an announcement from a group calling itself “Citizens for Health” calling attention to the unpublished abstract of not-yet-peer-reviewed research purporting to show that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) promotes addictive behavior in rats. It’s just another in a series of hysterical claims that foodstuffs are our enemies, led by book authors desperate for buzz and schlocky pseudoscience-promoting daytime television doctors.

The study itself is yet another item in a longstanding activist crusade to classify any pleasing foodstuffs as basically crack cocaine in the hopes of browbeating the public into accepting soda taxes, bans on products, and sale-age rules that people overwhelmingly oppose. It’s a scientifically dubious crusade, as a team of researchers from Cambridge University found that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors.”

More interesting is the story behind the group touting this finding. Regular readers might recall the petition a couple of years ago to re-label HFCS as “corn sugar,” since credible metabolic evidence suggests that cane or beet sugar (sucrose) and HFCS don’t affect the body differently.

One of the groups opposing the petition was Citizens for Health. Bloomberg News and the Washington Examiner’s Timothy Carney noted that Citizens for Health received roughly half its annual budget from the Sugar Association — the trade group for cane and beet sugar companies. During the period in question, the Sugar Association was hammering its corporate opponents, the HFCS makers, by emphasizing dubious claims that HFCS and sucrose somehow affected the body differently.

Now, we don’t know if the Sugar Association continues to fund Citizens for Health, but it’s a question worth asking. And whether the causes are financial or ideological, the food police movement is bound to its preconceived notions, not to sound principles of open scientific inquiry.

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