By Matt Bogard
I was having a conversation with someone recently about Sara Lee replacing their High Fructose Corn Syrup ingredient with ‘High Fructose’ table/cane/beet sugar, and they coined the phrase "ose" gate. I thought that summed it up well.
So what is the "ose" gate scandal/conspiracy? It is a combination of things. Several scams if you will. First it is the ‘sugar switcheroo’. Unfortunately, many people confuse the compound fructose with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Even worse, because it is "high fructose" corn syrup, they think that it is a sweetener that is really high in fructose compared to others. The undeniable truth is the fructose levels in HFCS are about 50%. But when you look at any other type of sugar, it is also 50% fructose. So, if fructose is bad, then HFCS and regular sugar are equally bad. It is all in a name. If we are comparing sweeteners based on fructose content, we could just as easily call table sugar "High Fructose" table sugar- let’s start calling it what it is ‘HFTS.’ The scandalous part is that food marketers are catering to this ignorance by advertising that they have removed HFCS from their foods and switched it with sugar. It makes no difference in terms of fructose content or calories, and consumers are being duped by the old ‘switcheroo.’
So, if it makes no difference in fructose content, or calories, then it likely will make no difference on obesity rates, yet that is the next scam. The ‘big fat lies’ scam. Opponents, (or conspiracy theorists) often like to claim that the massive use of HFCS is leading to obesity, but advocating that we replace it with HFTS (my new acronym). It makes no sense, but anti-agricultural activists and politicians are making hay with it. The argument that sugar sweetened beverages are related to obesity is shaky at best anyway. (1) Besides that, according to USDA data, the most abundant sweeteners in American's diets is not HFCS but HFTS (2) (both are about equal but HFTS has always had the lead)
Then there are the attacks on farm programs, which sometimes come from both democrats and republicans. Those on the left don’t like the idea of subsidizing politically incorrect farming practices (more on this later) and some from the right like to point out unintended consequences of government policies. The misconception is that subsidies lead to more corn production and cheaper HFCS and then cheaper high calorie foods- that lead to obesity. (I’ve already addressed obesity). Research from UC Davis blows this myth out of the water. If we get rid of all corn subsidies the impact on corn production would not be large enough to have a major impact on retail prices or consumption (they estimated that consumption would decrease by at most .2%) (3) Subsidies , which amount to less than ½ of 1% of our federal budget become a scape goat for all of our problems.
Next, there is the dilemma of the Omnivore’s Dilemma:
"If you eat industrially, you are made of corn. It holds together your McNuggets, it sweetens your soda pop, it fattens your meat, it is everywhere. It is fed to us in many forms, because it is cheap- a dollar buys you 875 calories in soda pop but only 170 in fruit juice. A McDonalds meal was analyzed as almost entirely corn."-Michael Pollan Omnivore's Dilemma (4)
This is bad how? The fact that modern family farmers are able to feed the world in so many different ways and do it cheaply should be considered a miracle. Although not his intention, the quote from Pollan is actually a statement of accomplishment for farm families everywhere!
Finally, there is the myth that HFCS is the product of industrial agriculture and industrial farms, which are unsustainable and are having a negative impact on our environment. These beliefs have made modern family farming practices politically incorrect, or socially irresponsible in the minds of many consumers and politicians. According to USDA data, 98% of all farms in the U.S. are family farms and they account for 85% of all production.(5) Large family farms are more diversified (5) and benefit the community according to recent research at Iowa State(6) In terms of sustainability, the technology used on modern family farms has led to drastic reductions in greenhouse gases, decreased soil erosion, decreased groundwater pollution, improved water use efficiency, and has increased wildlife diversity and food safety. (7)
So, to review I have outlined the 5 ‘sweet’ scams that define the "ose"gate conspiracy:
1) The Sugar Switcheroo Scam
2) Big Fat Lies Scam
3) The Subsidy Scape Goat Scam
4) The Dilemma of the Omnivore’s Dilemma
5) The Political Correctness Scam
What can you do? You can support your local family corn farmer by having a drink sweetened with HFCS. Maybe get that with a supersized burger and fries.
1 Adolescent beverage habits and changes in weight over time: findings from Project EAT1,2,3Am J Clin Nutr (October 28, 2009). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27573
Nutrition July-August 2007, Volume 23, Issues 7-8, Pages 557-563 "Is sugar-sweetened beverage consumption associated with increased fatness in children?"
3 Farm Subsidies and Obesity in the United States
Julian M. Alston, Daniel A. Sumner, and Stephen A. Vosti
Agricultural Resource Economics Update
V. 11 no. Nov/Dec 007
5 Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2007 Edition / EIB-24 Economic Research Service/USDA
6 Large Agriculture Improves Rural Iowa Communities
7 Matt Bogard. "Sustainable Agriculture Bibliography" 2010 Available at: http://works.bepress.com/matt_bogard/6