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Rejecting the ‘sugar switch’

By Staff | Mar 26, 2010

Tim burrack, chairman of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, said he is actively engaged in beating back the negative publicity that high fructose corn syrup is getting among nutritionists. He said the nation’s obesity epidemic, especially among young people, is not caused by HFCS, but by large intakes of all sweeteners, coupled with a lack of exercise.

A growing number of food and drink manufacturers are making the switch away from high fructose corn syrup to basic sugar and that has the Corn Refiners Association concerned for a couple of different reasons.

CRA President Audrae Erickson, who is based in Washington, D.C., told Farm News that her organization has been running a series of three television ads where one person disparages high fructose corn syrup adding, “You’ve heard what they say about it?” But then cannot give one negative factor. The other person then says, “It’s made from corn, has the same calories as sugar and honey and is fine in moderation.”

Then the voice over concludes, “Get the facts. You’re in for a sweet surprise.”

This is not geared toward more consumption, but it’s “an educational campaign,” Erickson said. The recent trend of manufacturers switching to sugar, even though sugar is at an historical high price, is a sign of companies trying to out-market their competition in a time of a tight economy.

She noted that product labels that read, “Has no high fructose corn syrup,” along with nutritional messages like “fewer calories” and “no cholesterol,” is misleading consumers.

“HFCS,” Erickson said, “is the same as sugar and honey. It has the same calories and the body does the same things with it. Sugar is sugar whether it comes from corn, cane, beets or bees.

“But through labeling, consumers are being led to believe that sugar is somehow better and therefore worth the extra price.”

Corn refining constitutes about 3.5 percent of the total U.S. corn demand.

According to the Iowa Corn Promotion Board during the 2008-09 marketing year, HFCS constituted a 460 million bushel demand on the corn market.

The loss of just 100 million bushels for HFCS would cost U.S. corn farmers an estimated four cents per bushel in Iowa the cumulated loss would be more than $87 million.

Tim Burrack, chairman of the ICPB, said this is a hot topic button for him.

“For some reason,” Burrack said, “high fructose corn syrup is under attack by The Foodies. It doesn’t make sense.

“Perhaps because HFCS has been an inexpensive sweetener for so long, it is now being blamed for obesity in adults and children. But science doesn’t verify this.”

He said that because all sweeteners are 50 percent glucose and 50 percent sucrose the body handles HFCS and cane sugar identically.

“The problem is that over the past 10 years, there has been a reduction in children being more active, a big decrease in exercise.

“So people need to either reduce the amount of calories they take in, or exercise more. But you can’t single-out corn syrup as the culprit.

“Let’s point the finger where it needs to be pointed.”

Making syrup

Corn syrup is made by breaking down the long chains of molecules into shorter chains, forming glucose and maltose. The more corn syrup is hydrolyzed, the higher the syrup’s glucose content.

High fructose corn syrup has been induced with additional enzymes converting the glucose into fructose, resulting in a sweeter corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup’s advantage in soft drinks is that it more readily incorporates into the solution, making it a higher quality product.

The fructose also encourages browning during baking and locks in moisture better than granulated sugar, extending the shelf life of baked goods.

CRA’s Erickson said HFC is a misnomer. “It’s not high in fructose at all. But that’s what happens when you let scientists name things.”

She said the sugar market has been in a downward spiral since the mid 1980s when the bottled water and zero calorie drinks exploded onto retail shelves. “We all go to these conferences and grab a bottle of water,” Erickson said.

ICPB’s Burrack added, “If people want to use a low-calorie product that’s fine. But the publicity is blaming HFCS and leaving (cane) sugar unscathed.”

Manufacturers like Pepsi, with its six-week Throwback campaign, plus Gatorade, Hunt’s and CapriSun are some of the manufacturers making the sugar switch, Erickson said.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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