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The high-fructose corn syrup bloggers: A symptom of a larger problem?

Almost exactly one year after the Nestle Family bloggers, we now have the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) bloggers, otherwise known as the "Corn Sugar" bloggers (note: HFCS is known as glucose/fructose in Canada). Like Nestle a year ago, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) invited a bunch of bloggers to listen to their one-sided version of the story in the hopes that they would help spread the gospel on their blogs.

Unfortunately, I didn't hear about the HFCS blog tour webinar event (compensated with Walmart gift certificates...a great place to buy HFCS-laden products) until after it happened. If I had heard about it before the event, I would probably have written an open letter to the bloggers, like I did last year, encouraging them to be cautious about the types of associations they make, to ask tough questions, and to not take everything they hear at face value. Because it should be obvious (although evidently it isn't to everyone), that when an organization with a vested interest offers you gifts in return for listening to their "experts", you are probably only getting one side of a complicated story. Just like a few minutes on Google should have told anyone doing research on Nestle that it is a controversial company, a few minutes on Google would also have revealed that high fructose corn syrup is a controversial issue.

Since I didn't hear about the "Corn Sugar" event until it had already happened, I didn't feel there was any rush to post about it. I knew that some very strong and smart voices were already writing about it (see Jessica Gottlieb, Liz from Mom101, Mir at WorkItMom, Kristin at Our Ordinary Life, Heather at Rookie Moms, Christine at Boston Mamas, and Karen from Notes from the Cookie Jar). Since I was busy with other commitments much of the week, I decided to wait a few days, read a bit, research a bit and gather my thoughts before joining the borg posting.

Is high-fructose corn syrup unhealthy?

At the centre of this discussion is the question of whether high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you. Or, more accurately, whether it is better or worse for you than other types of sugar. The Corn Refinfers were trying to convince mom bloggers that high fructose corn syrup is no worse than regular sugar and they were also trying to position it as the "natural" sugar option (versus plain old regular sugar). While high-fructose corn syrup may be made from a natural ingredient (corn), there is nothing natural about the highly processed end product that the Corn Refiners now want to call "corn sugar". Just like chicken nuggets are nothing like chicken, high-fructose corn syrup is nothing like corn.

There seems to be some debate about whether HFCS is more likely to contribute to obesity than other sugars. The corn refiners were trying to convince people that it doesn't whereas other people believe that it may. To be fair, the research that claims it causes obesity is disputed by renowned food researchers. That said, I'm not ready to jump on the HFCS is wonderful bandwagon.

According to Michael Pollan, in his book Food Rules, we should avoid products that contain HFCS:
Not because high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is any worse for you than sugar, but because it is, like many of the other unfamiliar ingredients in packaged foods, a reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed. Also, high-fructose corn syrup is being added to hundreds of foods that have not traditionally been sweetened - breads, condiments, and many snack foods - so if you avoid products that contain it, you will cut down on your sugar intake.

This makes a lot of sense. As many of my readers know, we just got back from spending the summer in Germany, where I lost 20 pounds. I was moderately more active, but now that I reflect on it I think the primary factor in my weight loss is the fact that in Germany not every food under the sun has sugar of some sort, primarily HFCS, added to it. Here in Canada I have to search for no-sugar-added bread, whereas in Germany no-sugar-added is more likely to be the default. I ate lots of sweets while in Germany, but they were not sickeningly sweet like they are here and I also didn't have to worry about my non-sweets (like bread) being sweetened. Quite simply, in North America, unless you are eating a whole foods only diet, you are probably ingesting more sugars that you should be and those are probably primarily HFCS.

Beyond the nutritional issues, there are also many environmental and financial concerns with the way that corn is produced and subsidized in the United States, a situation that is exacerbated and facilitated through the overuse of HFCS.

So whether HFCS contributes to obesity more than other sugars is really only one of many problems with high fructose corn syrup. I don't believe that you are poisoning your child if you feed them food with HFCS every once in a while, but I do think that HFCS is generally a problem and is something that bloggers should be wary about promoting.

Selling our social capital

I have to admit that I am continually frustrated when I see bloggers accepting cash or gifts in return for promoting unhealthy or unethical products, especially when they use the words right out of the promotional materials and pretend that it is their authentic voice on the issue. It frustrates me that they simply pass along what they have been given, without truly considering what they think of it themselves or without looking into or reporting on the other side of the story. I will admit that there are issues I am uneducated about. But I would not put up a one-sided blog post about those issues without first doing research on the other side of the story.

I also continue to be frustrated by the fact that unhealthy and unethical products are buying their way into blogging conferences as sponsors. Personally, I think that blog conferences should be sponsored by companies that can contribute something to bloggers and blogging, not by companies that want to use bloggers to shill their crap. I've criticized BlogHer before for accepting Nestle and other undesirable companies as sponsors and I was disappointed to learn that one of the sponsors of the Type-A-Mom Conference was the Corn Refiners Association (i.e. the people who want to tell you that "Corn Sugar" is great).

I asked Kelby Carr (@typeamom), the founder and organizer of the Type-A-Mom Conference about why she would accept a sponsor like the Corn Refiners. Here is what she had to say:
I am a foodie myself, and I certainly understand there are concerns. There were a couple things that were deciding factors in allowing them to sponsor. The main factor was that they expressed an interest in coming to Type-A Mom to hear moms' concerns, to listen, and not to pitch attendees. It seemed like an opportunity for parents to have those concerns heard face to face by the association. The second factor was that my conference, and many others, have sponsors who use sugars. It was a matter of fairness. I would love to have all organic/whole foods companies as food sponsors, but it takes tens of thousands of dollars above and beyond registration fees to put on the conference. The fact of the matter is that we pitched every company that falls into that category that we could think of, and in most cases got no response.

Bottom line, though, this wasn't about money because their sponsorship was the lowest level available. I had a lengthy phone conversation with the marketer with the association, and in fact encouraged her to just attend and not sponsor. She felt that would be a bit disingenuous and also said they wanted to show financial support for the mom blogging community. What I agreed to, finally, was the lowest level of sponsorship. They placed a water bottle into gift bags (easy enough to discard), and they got a logo on the site.

I think Kelby is a smart woman, as are the founders of BlogHer. I don't think they are likely to be easily swayed by the companies that they accept as sponsors. However, I do still question their judgment in accepting those types of sponsors because I don't think they realize (or perhaps they do) how easily their attendees are sometimes swayed. As I reflect on the issue with blog conference sponsors (and blog tours and blogger trips), I think the biggest problem I have is that there are obviously too many people attending these events who are willing to take a couple of freebies and a bit of information and accept that it is the truth. Are a lot of bloggers missing critical thinking skills or morals or do they discard them when money, free stuff, free trips and lower blog conference prices are offered to them? I realize that that sounds very pejorative and it isn't intended that way, but I am truly baffled by the willingness of bloggers to promote so many things with so few questions. I wonder if it would be easier to affect change in that community if I could get inside their brains, but somehow it seems that I can't.

It is frustrating.

I'm not sure what else to say about it right now.
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Reader Comments (102)


Which part of my post did you consider to be trying to control your life?

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Great post!

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharity

This is so similar to the formula sponsored conferences for health care professionals isn't it? I am sure they go to "hear the concerns" from doctors and nurses too. I mean these are intelligent, well educated types for the most part, aren't they? A lot of mom bloggers are pretty smart too, but sponsoring under that guise of listening and responding to concerns, I think, just gives companies fodder for figuring out how to better market their products to choosy moms. Where is the loop hole? How can we weasel our way into it while promoting our product at the same time? Anyone with great marketing skills can get a person to change their mind or at least consider another side. That's what I don't trust. These rich companies have players like that on their teams and it is their well paying job duty to put doubt for one's values in one's mind. That scares me. All the more reason to always avoid these types of things unless you can knowingly go there expecting to have someone try to change your mind, no matter how sneaky it's done. Thanks for this Annie!

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

A perfect example why science education is in dire need of reform in this country... Unfortunately, Michael Pollan has very little science on his side, at it amazes (amuses?) me how many people flock to him like some kind of food messiah. Along with this, there's these borderline nutcases promoting a conspiracy theory approach to HFCS. The shame is that high school leaves people ill-prepared for critical scientific thinking, and half of the people in college are falling over themselves trying to get out of 'hard' science classes so they can take flower pressing or some such nonsense.

It's no wonder why we constantly find caught ourselves between charismatic windbags like Pollan and corporate scumbags like the corn lobby.

As a biochemist, I haven't seen in the literature any conclusive evidence that HCFS is the poison that some people make it out to be. There's actually some research that supports the corn lobby. However, the discerning reader would do well to note the research coming out of Bart Hoebel's lab at Princeton. They have some really interesting results that might link HFCS to weight gain. Some important controls were left out of their experiments, but it suggests that the ratio of sugars in HFCS may be important metabolically. Here's a press release:


Unfortunately, you'll never hear this from Pollan (because a journalism degree doesn't really qualify you to think hard about anything by itself), and the corn lobby wouldn't advertise the possibility that their product is bad for you in excess. So we're stuck, with suggestive research and a whole bunch of people who would rather delegate their thinking to someone else. It's much easier to think that something is evil than to think about moderation.

How about this? The US government subsidizes one of the worlds best biomedical literature databases, and many of the good journals make government-sponsored research freely available after a short time (6mo to 1yr). Rather than getting your information from a glorified soccer mom who knows how to use blogster, spend some time looking at pubmed.org and start doing some research for yourself.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDepollanated

I just want to say that Cloud has no horse in this game. She is totally my objective voice of reason, and if she links to something, I follow.

October 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom101


I agree that we need to talk about sugar in general. I spend a lot of time looking for recipes that are lower in sugar or altering recipes myself to decrease the amount of sugar that my family eats. However, I wish I could walk into the grocery store and buy bread, muffins, sauces, cereals, yogurts, EVERYTHING really, with less sugar in it. It seems that the only way to get low sugar products in North America is to buy stuff with "diet" sweeteners, which we try to avoid too. It really shouldn't have to be this hard to eat a healthy diet.

All that to say that it disgusts me that people would sign up to promote HFCS. But I also wouldn't be thrilled with people signing up to promote sugar.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Another excellent point. I work with companies on my parenting lifestyle site...but never am I under the delusion that they (the company) cares about me as a person...though occasionally I have made genuine friendships with PR reps or others. Nor do I mistake my preference for or enjoyment of their products for "loving" the company.

A mutually beneficial relationship between bloggers and companies is a great thing but it shouldn't be mistaken for real, human relationships.

Just so you know...I have been reading your comments with a great deal of interest, as I am sure have others. I just want you to know that you are being heard...at least by me and probably by many others.

I know that there is no proven difference in how HFCS is metabolized...but I still have a preference for less-processed foods. I understand that most sugars are processed in some way but it seems that HFCS is more so? I'm wondering if you could speak at all to the mercury that was found a little while back in HFCS?

Also, I do think that this matters because of how cheap HFCS--it is an inexpensive way to make more sugary, cheap foods. If there were no HFCS, sweetening foods would be more expensive and possibly there would be less added sweetener in food--especially the food that is more accessible to families with average and lower incomes.

I am also very interested in talking about added sugars in general.

I always look for no sweeteners added, then for foods with only natural sugars after checking the amount of sugar. But I would still prefer foods with added sugars to those with artificial sweeteners.

I absolutely agree, Annie, that this is a symptom of a larger problem and its certainly not confined entirely to HFCS - think sodium and added dyes. We've become obsessed with cheap food in large quantities, which explains the number of $1 menus popping up everywhere. Anyone who cooks real food has to question what they are eating for $1...nothing good.

For a long time I got into couponing, along with a lot of other mom bloggers, but I soon found that we were eating so much processed crap that the "savings" wasn't really worth it. You get what you pay for.

I have to note though that sugar generally is not added to breads to make them sweeter, and almost all commercially available breads employ some form of sugar because it helps to produce a more stable, standard form of bread. The yeast need it to feed. Unfortunately, so many companies are replacing even this miniscule amount of sugar with HFCS now.

We no longer buy bread at the store for this reason. My husband has become quite the artisan bread baker, and we are slowly adding yogurt and other staples to our repertoire of homemade items. It's the best way we have found to control HFCS as well as sodium and other things we like to moderate.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Albin

Very interesting blog. In light of the CRA's desperate attempt to keep people from knowing
that they are ingesting HFCS---renaming HFCS as corn sugar--I would like to point out a
few items.
The problem with the discussion about HFCS is that it is really HFCSs.
Archer-Daniels-Midland's website advertises they make three grades of HFCS for direct
human consumption.
Cornsweet 42
Cornsweet 55, used for soda
Cornsweet 90, intensely sweet used for low-cal products.
The numbers reflect the %fructose.
42%-->90% fructose. That's quite a range, and it belies Ms. Erickson, pres of the CRA, statment
that HFCS has about the same amount of fructose as sucrose (50%).
For the consumer HFCS is a black box. Is it HFCS-42, 55, 90, or something in between?
Only your liver knows for sure.
Let's face it. The CRA or the food manufacturers can use and fru:glu they please. Why? Because
the sweetener will always ring in at 4 cal/g and it will never affect the nutrional breakdown on the
back of the package.
Not only should the name HFCS remain, but the FDA should require that food manufacturers
list the % fructose, e.g. HFCS-F90.
Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia 1770

[...] Review bloggers / Sponsered bloggers take note of this one : The Hight-fructose Corn Syrup Bloggers : a Symptom of a Larger Problem at PhD in Parenting [...]

October 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaybook: October 11th «

I know exactly what you mean! I feel like I care about way too many things sometimes- it's kind of stressful! The longer I live, the more I find to get upset about in this world. I know that the future will be better (based on the Bible's promises), but I wish that I could help more people and fix these huge societal problems that we're seeing today.

Most of my friends don't care nearly as much, though. Despite all of my talk talk talk about natural birth, having one myself, and trying to convince my co-worker to have trust in her body, she got talked into an induction and c-section. Then when breastfeeding wasn't going well, I tried to help her succeed in that, and donated milk to her baby, but still she fed him formula until she could exclusively pump, and he "won't nurse". Two other friends of mine have had babies in the past few weeks, and both have been told to supplement because "they're not making enough milk", when their babies are only a week old! aaaaaaghghghghg. I need to not care, right?!

Now I've gotten in to the idea of "real food". I look around and see NOTHING that I want to eat! I don't think my brain can handle it.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Hi, I've been reading a lot about "real food", which uses a lot of soaked and sprouted grains. Apparently these grains have most of the gluten broken down already by the time they are used in cooking, so can often be used in a "gluten free" diet.

Similarly, raw milk contains lactase which helps to break down the lactose in milk, so persons who are "lactose intolerant" can often drink unpasturized milk because of the presence of lactase that is usually removed in the processing. Interesting stuff.

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara

@phdinparenting There may have been a disconnect here. I understood your comment - “and they were also trying to position it as the “natural” sugar option (versus plain old regular sugar)” - as your belief that we are trying to position high fructose corn syrup/corn sugar as a "more" natural option than sugar (sucrose). We are not doing that. The quote you pulled and were focusing on was just a response to one of the questions. All the independent expert was saying, is that per the FDA sugar (sucrose) and HFCS/corn sugar are both considered natural. He also stated “fructose is fructose and glucose is glucose as far as your body is concerned – it can’t tell fructose from one source or another,” but this is not stating that HFCS/corn sugar is more natural than sugar (sucrose) or vice versa.

Therese, CRA, Social Media Manager

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese (CRA)


I can see what you are saying now, but that means that the question was flawed and the expert should have addressed that first, for example by saying: "I'm not sure I understand the question. Regular sugar is a natural sweetener". Then, if the expert wanted to continue, he/she could have said: "However, if you were asking whether there are any benefits to high fructose corn syrup over sugar, I can tell you that ..... [insert answer]."

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Cynthia, I have noticed you have been leaving comments on articles that mention high fructose corn syrup and in all of your comments you have voiced the same concern in regard to the variation of fructose and glucose in high fructose corn syrup. First I would like to invite you to contact us with any questions or concerns, but in the meantime hopefully I can provide some clarity.

High fructose corn syrup is sold principally in two formulations — 42 percent and 55 percent fructose. The high fructose corn syrup used in breads, jams and yogurt is 42% fructose – actually less fructose than what's found in sugar. The second formulation, with 55% fructose, is used in many carbonated soft drinks in the United States. A third formulation with 90% fructose is used in small quantities for specialty applications, but primarily is used to blend with the lower fructose syrup to make the 55% fructose syrup. Please see more: (White JS. 2008. Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain't. Am J Clin Nutr 88(6):1716S-1721S. http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/88/6/1716S.)

Therese Pompa, CRA, Social Media Manager

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese (CRA)

In Canada, the definitions (for labeling purposes) are as follows:
- sugar: sugar, liquid sugar, invert sugar or liquid invert sugar, singly or in combination
- glucose-fructose: glucose syrups and isomerized glucose syrups, singly or in combination, where the fructose fraction does not exceed 60 percent of the sweetener on a dry basis
- fructose syrup: glucose syrups and isomerized glucose syrups, singly or in combination, where the fructose fraction exceeds 60 percent of the sweetener on a dry basis
- sugar/glucose-fructose: sugar or glucose-fructose, singly or in combination

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

for Therese (CRA)
O.K., here are some questions.
1.Since ADM's website claims that Cornsweet 90 serves not only as a a stock solution, but is
used for direct human consumption, please tell me what food and beverages are sweetened with Cornsweet 90.
2. It has been estimated that in the U.S. one third of ingested HFCS comes via sweetened
beverages. What percentage of ingested HFCS is via foods or beverages sweetened by HFCS-90.
3. Since HFCS-42 has the approximate sweetness of sucrose, please tell me why
the CRA boosted the amount of fructose almost 30% (55/42=1.31) to yield the formula HFCS-55,
used principally for soda.
Thank you,
Cynthia Papierniak

October 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia 1770

To be fair, the source Therese cites comes from John S White, a researcher on the CRA payroll who participated in the blogger web conference. That doesn't make his findings inaccurate, but it's a disclosure that I think should be made.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom101

@Mom101 Your comment is fair, and of course we do compensate independent experts such as Dr. John White for the time they spend providing their expertise in response to our requests. Dr. White and other independent experts whom we consult are not employees of the CRA, however, nor are they on our payroll. It is customary for experts to be reimbursed for their time as they do not work for free.

Therese, Social Media Manager, CRA

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese (CRA)

Of course it is customary for experts to be paid... but it is also customary to cite independent scientific studies (financed by disinterested parties) if you really want to prove a point and/or to disclose financial relationships when citing those that have been commissioned by your lobbying organization or conducted by a researcher who is or has been in your employ, whether as a payroll employee or as a consultant.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandace


Thank you for your questions.

As noted above, HFCS-90 is used to blend with HFCS-42 to make the 55% fructose syrup, HFCS-55. HFCS-90 is also used in a small number of specialty applications, where it's added sweetness can be used to reduce calories in a product, or its higher fructose content can be used to control the freezing point of frozen confections or reduce freezer damage in frozen fruits. These commercial applications use very little HFCS-90, accounting for less than 0.1% of the sales volume of all HFCS combined.

HFCS-55 is used in carbonated beverages and accounts for 60% of the US supply. HFCS-42, which is used in breads, jams, yogurts, etc.,…accounts for 40%. You can find additional data at
http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/Sugar/data.htm (Table 30).

Further, it is HFCS-55 that has the same sweetness as sucrose. HFCS-42 is less sweet, at 92% of the sweetness of sucrose.

Thank you,

Therese, Social Media Manager, CRA

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTherese (CRA)

Thanks for another great post!

Regarding why people accept gifts, info, etc. at face value: obviously, there are plenty of people lacking critical thinking skills and morals these days. But I also think it's a lack of awareness. There are times when we know something, but it stays in our head. Then something happens--we read a book, our best friend or sister shares what she's doing differently, we get ill and start researching natural solutions, etc.--that causes the head knowledge to reach our hearts and turn into action.

That's what I love about blogging; I have learned so much from other women (and a few men) that turned my knowledge into awareness then action.

October 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

I have been thinking about this post for awhile.

As usual, part of it comes down to not everyone having the same idea of ethical as you, or not being attached to the same cause as you, and that can be hard to understand from the other side. For example, you're probably appalled by people who don't actively boycott Nestle, even if they are not actively promoting Nestle. Personally, I'm appalled that people support Michael Vick or Ben Rothlisberger and none of my money will ever go knowingly to their pockets. Or another example, I'm shocked and appalled by the people who still pull into the BP gas station down the street from my house. Perhaps since we don't live on the Gulf Coast, they don't think the recent spill affects them? IDK.

The other side is that you never know someone's motivation. I'm sure there are bloggers who will take anything and attach their name to anything because it's free, but for others it may be murkier. The Nestle bloggers for example, had varying reasons for attending.

Last week I gave away tickets to a workshop aimed at mother-daughter communication. The week before that it was environmentally friendly insect products, but I also gave away a gift card to Olive Garden and coupons for free product at Noodles and Company. My readers are overwhelmingly families with small children, many on one income and to them, the ocassional night out without the kids is more important than eating "real" Italian food or visiting the restaurant that doesn't put heavy cream and butter into their sauces. I'm grasping trying to defend someone who would actively promote HFCS, but I'm just saying it's possible that someone is trying to do some good.

As for processed food in North America, I think slowly we are making progress. Of course, I live in a large city with lots of choices, but it's not hard for me to avoid HFCS, salt, fat, etc in the products I buy. The selection in most places has improved dramatically within the past 3 or 4 years. What's harder is getting people to switch, but it has to be baby steps. Even the experts say small changes are more likely to be lasting.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

I won't speak for Annie but I will say that I do not think you are giving her enough credit here.

Personally, I am able to separate someone actually disagreeing with me on an issue with what my concern is in this particular case.

Yes, I do have a problem with parent bloggers promoting HFCS.

I have a separate but related problem with parent bloggers uncritically swallowing and regurgitating information presented to them by a large corporation or lobbying group. I am not saying ALL of the bloggers did this. Some indicated they were skeptical of the seminar because it was sponsored by a lobbying group and a few even indicated they sought out independent sources for some balance.

I also have a problem with companies, lobbying groups, and PR agencies approaching bloggers to participate in a program that they know will result in 100 identical posts (or at least 90 identical posts, with a few renegades) extolling the benefits of a controversial product and promoting their disingenuous re-branding of said product--without even so much as warning the bloggers that this is a hot button topic.

And I would feel this way even if they were promoting a product in which I believed. Of course, most of the things I love don't have large lobbies or big corporations behind them...but if they did, I would hold them to the same standard.

Kudos to the bloggers who signed-up, listened, conducted independent research, and reached their own conclusions (whether or not I agree with those conclusions). And I hope that they would be open to discussing those conclusions with those who disagree with them.

For those who showed up, typed up the "myths" and "facts" word for word, and then cry "bully" when someone points out that this is not information from an objective source, I don't vilify you. Most likely you don't have training in critically evaluating media and it can be tough to spot manipulation when you do not have this sort of experience. I just hope you take a step back and consider how you use your online voice and influence and listen to what Annie and Liz and others have said with an open mind...and then reach your own conclusions. All I can ever ask is just that someone listens.

Candace, you just said everything I wanted to only far more eloquently. I keep going to add something...then erasing it.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom101

I'm not sure why this reply is aimed at me, since I didn't really disagree with Annie. I'm just bringing up the point, as I have before, that not everyone shares the same idea of what ethical means.

The title of this post is "A symptom of a larger problem?" If the problem is as you stated, "I also have a problem with companies, lobbying groups, and PR agencies approaching bloggers to participate in a program that they know will result in 100 identical posts (or at least 90 identical posts, with a few renegades) extolling the benefits of a controversial product and promoting their disingenuous re-branding of said product–without even so much as warning the bloggers that this is a hot button topic." then yes, it's a problem. If the problem is the vast amount of crap in processed foods, yes it's a problem. If the problem is people looking at the information and coming to a conclusion that is different that someone else's, no that's not neccesarily a problem.

The bigger problem is, IMO, money being more important than the good of the people. Miners get sent under the ground despite the fact that key safety features are missing. Lobbyists insist BPA is safe because they have a vested interest in it. I read an article this morning about proposed legislation that would ban certain lawn chemicals and certain groups who are against it because it would effect their profits. Billions of gallons of oil get spilled into the ocean because of shortcuts. Formula companies send out phony surveys aimed at "supporting breastfeeding."

I was not one of the corn syrup bloggers, nor would I ever consider being one, but I have an acquaintance who would be absolutely fine with the "moderation" spiel. She liked the CRA commercials that made me gag. She thinks the brouhaha over HFCS is overblown, and she thinks it's not her job to police what other people put into ther bodies. I can't, won't agree with her, but she's also entitled to her opinion.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris

My reply was to you because you led with "As usual, part of it comes down to not everyone having the same idea of ethical as you, or not being attached to the same cause as you, and that can be hard to understand from the other side."

I did not take your comment to mean you were a HFCS supporter or anything like that.

I just don't think I have any problem understanding that others may not be as attached to the same causes as I am.

I agree that people looking at the information and coming to different conclusions is not necessarily a problem.

I just don't think that was the issue here.

It isn't that we all looked at the same body of information critically and then came to different conclusions--I disagree with other bloggers, including Annie, respectfully, on a regular basis.

What happened here is that a group of bloggers was picked to view a slanted presentation without any warning that there might be another side to what is really a very contentious topic. And that presentation of course got the results it was designed to produce...in many cases word for word.

I feel I can distinguish between the medium and the message...in this case, I object to both.

"I just don’t think I have any problem understanding that others may not be as attached to the same causes as I am. "

I don't either, nor do I think Annie does. Although sometimes it is hard to swallow when someone supports a company or a person that is particularly unsavory. And while HFCS falls into that category for me, not everyone agrees.

However, I've read some posts on the corn syrup bloggers that pretty much say, "Why would ANYONE even consider being a part of this?" And the reason is because there are always people willing to do anything for money. Even if they are completely aware that HFCS is a controversial topic. And really, who doesn't know by now that HFCS is controversial?

Maybe it's because I was born a skeptic, but I never accept anything at face value. I would hope others would do the same. Unfortunately, it happens on a regular basis in all avenues of life.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKayris


I think the confusion stems from this statement in your first comment:

As usual, part of it comes down to not everyone having the same idea of ethical as you, or not being attached to the same cause as you, and that can be hard to understand from the other side. For example, you’re probably appalled by people who don’t actively boycott Nestle, even if they are not actively promoting Nestle.

I think both the "as usual" and the Nestle example made it sound like this was yet another example of me going off the rails because not everyone agrees with me.

For what it is worth, I'm not "appalled" by people who do not come to the same conclusions as me about certain companies, ingredients or people. Disappointed perhaps, but not appalled. I am appalled by people who do not even consider that there may be ethical issues or who just shrug off potential ethical issues and then wonder why people get upset. If you (the royal you, not you specifically) are going to promote something that is controversial, be prepared to take the heat and to defend yourself with something more than "don't be a bully" or "OMG you're the borg". If people aren't prepared to have an intellectual conversation about it, perhaps they should decline the gift certificate next time.

October 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] and beverages, which many don’t see as ‘health-promoting’.  Information about High Fructose Corn Syrup, and its relationship to obesity and other health problems, has been prevalent in the news [...]

October 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAuthentic and engaged «

[...] In Parenting had a good post about the HFCS debacle (as did Mom [...]

Years ago I'd heard Alton Brown say, (after some he'd developed some health issues and done some research) to avoid HFCS. It was on a shortlist on his website of things he intended to do to improve his health. He didn't think there was an issue with HFCS per se, but that it was an indicator ingredient--most of what it's in is not something you need. Avoid it in ingredients list and you quite easily improve your diet. That's all I knew about it and it made sense. Than I went overseas for 3 years.

I returned from last year, and was a little overwhelmed with the HFCS controversy. I couldn’t figure out what exactly the problem was. People seemed to think it was evil in and of itself, instead of just being an ingredient that should get your attention. At the same time, Mr. Brown, 3 or 4 years later, was looking healthier than he had in the earliest episodes. Svelte and fit.

I recall a hullaballoo about the HFCS on a food blog last summer when plain corn syrup was in a candy recipe. Not even HFCS. The purpose of the HFCS in the candy recipe was to make the sugar behave in a certain way because of the presence of the invert sugar in the syrup. It’s a chemical need in that recipe. Nevertheless, people suggested alternate recipes with sugar. Which made no sense, based on what I'd learned in organic chemistry in high school, and re-learned in pastry and in nutrition classes in culinary school. Once you get to the organic chemical stage, it doesn't matter how you got there. Sure, there is a difference between a pile of pure fructose and a pile of apples containing the same amount of fructose. But, refine the fructose out of those apples and your body can't tell it apart from pear fructose, corn fructose,, cane fructose, sugar beet fructose or any other. Agave glucose and corn glucose and maple sugar glucose are all the same to your gut. Indeed, when you cook with sugar, some of it converts during the cooking process into glucose. The alternate recipes usually involved cooking the sugar, so you’d still end up with glucose, though the quantitiy and stability wouldn’t be as reliable as just adding a tablespoon of (not HF)corn syrup.

Through it all, the advice I took from Mr. Brown seemed to hold up well. If I see HFCS on the ingredient list consider if I really want the item not because the HFCS would kill me, but because I should either not have it, or I should indulge in a lesser amount of a better version, including the option of making it myself. When the issue came up on the various parenting blogs, I clicked away, unread. But Mom 101’s post somehow was readable, and it led me here. This was also readable. And sensible. Partly because your issue is not so much the HFCS, but the bloggers actions about it. I am so glad that you quote Pollan above. He seems to understand the science of it, even if his readers take it out of context and turn it into nonsense.

I must say, I’m not believing it’s that hard to avoid HFCS. Maybe I internalized Brown and Pollan’s take on it so I am unconsciously avoiding it. A quick look through my kitchen resulted in very little HFCS.

A low calorie mayonnaise. Which I bought months ago, but we've never opened. Evidently, we eat little enough mayo that we should risk the full fat version. Or risk the HFCS.

An imported bottle of cherries which lists syrup of glucose and fructose. It's from Germany, so these may be derived from something other than corn.

The ingredients label is gone from our bottle of ketchup. It’s a store brand, so I bet there is HFCS in it. Though, like the mayo, it’s not greatly used around here, so the nutritional risks, if any, are minimal.

The store brand strawberry syrup has HFCS. Without it, I’m sure the product would crystallize, so I’m thinking this is justified from a chemical standpoint.

We have a jar of cheap store brand jam. I usually don’t buy jams with ingredients other than fruit or sugar. Preferably listed in that order. But I must have reallllly wanted apricot jam that day because this has corn syrup solids. Not sure if that is HF or not, but I’ll list it here.

Also I have log cabin with regular corn syrup, as well as light and dark corn syrup, molasses, agave nectar and maple syrup. All of which have glucose and fructose in them but not HFCS.

Finally, I noticed 'gluconolactone' in a shelf stable sushi kit by Annie Chun. I had to look that one up! It's lactic acid related and gives a sour pickly taste to stuff and breaks down to glucose and something else. No indication of the original ingredient used to make it. Could be corn, or milk, or something else entirely.
My bread doesn't have it, nor any cereals, nor any of the cookies or crackers we have on hand. Admittedly, living in Southern California, I have some shopping options others don't. Hurray for Trader Joe's, who evidently avoid HFCS in cookies, frozen foods and sauces so I don’t have to. But mostly, I avoid cookies, frozen foods and jarred sauces.

So, 4 or 5 items with HFCS. Admittedly, we don’t keep a lot of snack and dessert items of the ready to eat variety. Because I will eat them. I would go so far as to say that if you can’t avoid them because you must have these items in your house, that you reconsider if you really must have them in the house. You don’t. Kids will manage without snacks that have it, you will manage without products that use it. People did before they expected everything to be ready to eat from the grocery. Make things yourself. Oh, if only I were as thin and healthy as this self righteous little paragraph makes me sound! Alas, I am not.

After reading your post and the responses and doing a bit of research tonight, I have some questions.

Regarding the name change: How do you feel about companies listing ‘evaporated cane juice’ or ‘dried cane juice solids’ instead of ‘evaporated cane syrup’ or more concisely ‘sugar’? I have several products from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s which list this ingredient. It sounds good, but, now I’ve researched a bit, it seems just as misleading as the HFCS/Corn Sugar change.

Are sugar cane growers any more environmentally and ethically responsible than corn growers?

Why do you compare the making of HFCS to the making of chicken nuggets? Comparing the enzymes and heat in the corn processing facility to the blood and gore and grossness of animal processing? Not to mention the mean old factory chicken farmer who comes to mind. It seems a very unequal comparison, a guilt by association trick. A more apt comparison would be the chemicals and heat of turning soy into tofu. Surely the soy and corn farming issues are more relatable, the same sorts of fertilizer/insecticide/watering and land use issues, with none of the manure disposal and pecking out of the other chickens eyes issues. Or just compare it directly to the processing of sugar cane so we can see just how much safer and more ethical sugar is.

October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNil Zed

You are so right Michelle, corn syrup is in everything you pick up today, I had my nephews for the summer and they were upset for awhile when I told them that we do not drink pop or eat all these packaged foods, within a few weeks there skin cleared up and they then began to learn what all that pop was doing to there bodies. I also eat all organic products, as many say it is to expense to buy, when you weight the cost of junk food and the damage it does to us it is very affordable.

October 31, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoAnn Bills

[...] and beverages, which many don’t see as ‘health-promoting’.  Information about High Fructose Corn Syrup, and its relationship to obesity and other health problems, has been prevalent in the news [...]

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAuthentic and engaged «

Sorry, I didn't check this thread for ages.... but then someone told me that there was a question for me. So if you're still reading:

I don't really know if HFCS would be considered "more processed" than your run of the mill sugar. We process the heck out of sugar cane to make granulated sugar, and we process the heck out of corn to make HFCS. Forced to place a bet, I'd bet HFCS has "more" processing, but I'm not sure that it really matters. Honey is probably the least processed sweetener (unless you count the processing done by the bees!), but it tends to have a higher percentage of fructose, so... yeah, who knows.

On the mercury thing- that study made me downright mad- and not at the HFCS people. To me, it was activism masquerading as science, and I don't like that even if I agree with the goal. I think it hurts our ability to make fact-based decisions when people start fudging the facts. When I get mad, I usually post about it, and here is the post on the mercury dust up:

I basically agree with you on the cheapness of sweet food point, but am not sure what I think we should do about it, because anytime I try to come up with a position I get all tangled up in the problem of why I should get to eat all the crap I want because I'm well off, but lower income people get sanctimonious lectures about what they should and shouldn't spend their food stamps on. So I just keep looking for foods without much added sugar and try to buy those.

Oh, and thanks @Mom-101! You made me blush.

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

I'm subscribed to comments so I saw your reply and thank you!

I found your post fascinating...but I come down to two points that prevent me from "equal opportunity" skepticism:

(1) I would much rather doubt the safety of an additive (or a material used for holding food, etc.), than doubt reports that it is not safe. This has little to do with whether the source is government, industry, or what have you. Obviously scientific merit should be considered--and I try the best I can as a layman. However, I would rather find out that ingredient I avoided for 20 years is actually safe than find out that ingredient I (or my children) consumed for 20 years causes all sorts of health issues.

(2) Regarding "trace" amounts the thing that always concerns me is that the ingredient or material of concern is usually not anywhere near the only source. Trace amounts of mercury, lead, BPA, etc., they all build up in the system, I believe (please correct me if I am wrong). Some sources I cannot easily and reasonably avoid. I am not in a position to give up my car, etc. But I can try to buy more natural toys, beauty and bath products, foods, and avoid these substances of concern where I can.

In general, I look at a few factors: how good is the science behind the concern? how easily is it avoided or fixed? In other words, if I can switch my daughter to drinking out of glass jam jars and actually save money and potentially avoid BPA, it doesn't really matter if the jury is still out or not on whether or not BPA is still safe. I know this, it isn't good for her. So, why not avoid it wherever I can?

Finally, as to the last point, about lower income families...I don't think it is about sanctimonious lectures telling poor people what they can or cannot eat. I think it is a lot about choice. It is about people living in food deserts where they only have access to cheap, barely edible "food" that is tarted up with lots of salt and sugars and artificial sweeteners...and the cheaper the additive, the cheaper the food can be and still have some taste to it. I've lived in areas where access to fresh foods is extremely limited.

If people have access to more naturally sweet and flavorful foods and still choose over-processed junk that is high in calories but low in nutrients, that is their choice. But what bothers me is when they do not have this access and this choice.

[...] careful. Now that I check labels to look for trans fats, high sodium levels, high sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup, also known as glucose/fructose), artificial sweeteners, MSG, and other ingredients I cannot [...]

It is always funny when I get in discussions like this, because in general, I don't disagree with your way of living, and don't really live all that differently. But maybe I should have written that "equal opportunity cynic" post more carefully. I'm not saying that we should embrace all additives with open arms. I'm saying that we should be equally cynical about information coming from advocacy groups as we are about information coming from corporations. Both have pretty strong competing interests. People tend to doubt peer-reviewed science done by academics but paid for by corporations but accept non-peer-reviewed studies done by a bunch of people working for an advocacy group. This makes no sense to me.

On the mercury study, what bothered me most was the lack of true controls. If their hypothesis was that the presence of HFCS is correlated with the presence of mercury, then they really needed to test some foods made with cane sugar, too, to see if there was a trend for more mercury in the HFCS foods than in the cane sugar foods. I actually think they should have tested some unprocessed foods, too- I suspect that mercury at those low levels would turn up there, too. What they did instead was issue a splashy press release trying to piggy-back on a much less inflammatory peer-reviewed paper. And shame on our media- they picked it up and ran with it, without really questioning the science at all.

On BPA- I see no problem with people switching to glass. I am a bit concerned by the fact that we have all been switched by default to other plastics. My day care does not accept glass bottles, and I don't blame them. There is a risk to using glass, too- glass bottles break, and in a room full of crawling babies, that is a problem. So we're now using bottles made with other plastics that have had nowhere near the scrutiny of BPA. I'm not all that worried about it, but it does strike me as not the best outcome. That controversy is different than the mercury thing, though, because in that case it is an argument conducted primarily in peer-reviewed journals. The fact that there is so much controversy inclines me to think that any risk, if it exists, is small. But the jury truly is still out on that one, and I think it will stay out for quite awhile.

November 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCloud

I do understand and appreciate that, really. I often find myself in a similar position but on other areas of study.

And I did understand that main point you were making about skepticism in general when approaching media scare stories about studies and about mercury in HFCS in particular.

My point was primarily that I reserve a greater deal of cynicism for studies saying certain materials are "safe" and less for those saying a material may not be safe...it is sort of the Pascal's wager of my own and my children's health...and if I have to make a bet, I would rather later on find out it really was safe (having avoided it) than that it was dangerous (having trusted a study and used it).

I edit at Wikipedia and found this site while looking for information on HFCS. I'd like to join your group. Thanks!

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermarseydotes


I'm not sure which group you are referring to, but happy to have you here reading the blog. :)

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

[...] discussions on the blog. She has been very engaged on topics like parent-blame authors, religion, high-fructose corn syrup bloggers, epidurals and [...]

[...] products to live (often with the claims their products actually make us healthier, and often in ways that are designed to make them seem more trusted). Our government protects them on every level — to keep the economy [...]

February 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterThe Poisons We Eat Every Day

[...] turns out this isn’t just a little conference call with a gift card attached. This opportunity, like some others I’ve written about before, involves travel and behind the [...]

Just my 2c worth. It would seem that in a country with the highest obesity rate in the world (and climbing) that alot of folks are attempting to villify safe, ordinary products that, when consumed in moderation, are not harmful in the slightest. They spend weeks and months researching these products and endlessly dissect every atom of them. Why? If you have fat kids, chances are you are a fat parent. Poor eating habits beget poor eating habits. Sedentary lifestyles beget sedentary lifestyles. Look around you.
Last time I checked, I had a considerable amount of control over what my kid puts in his mouth and how much time they spent on the couch in my house. At least up until the time they hit their late teens and could hit the drivethru or whatever on their own.....
Just a bit sick and tired of overblown, overeducated and overworried folks saying that our kids are fat because of this food, or they're fat because of that restaurant or that they are somehow "victims" in one way or another. Please.
As in most areas today everyone is looking for an excuse for bad parenting rather than stepping up to the damn plate and being a GOOD parent and paying attention all of the time as one should.
Don't tell me you didn't notice your kid was getting fat BEFORE that child hit the obese mark. You just didn't do anything about it.
When you sit on your ass all day, shove fast food and sugar/salt/complex sugars in your mouth most of the time guess what? You're gonna get fat. At just what point did common sense leave our world? Oh yeah, I forgot that most schools these days do not require these fat ass kids to take PE. Come on.
This is pretty simple stuff guys. And nowhere in any of that research will you find what is or isn't a "target" amount of any ingredient that may or may not kill/make you fat. As usual the research is "incomplete". You don't need scientific research and billions of dollars worth of social stuidies to figure it out. Open your eyes and look around you. See that fat kid at the bus stop? Is his father/mother a marathon runner? I doubt it. Are they quite overweight as well? Probably. Do they display lousy exercise and eating habits? Most likely.
Common sense and moderation usually allow things like childhood obesity to disappear. It is far less a food/food additive issue than it is a lifestyle/parenting issue. It ain't the chicken nuggets making that kid fat. It's how MANY of them their PARENT lets them eat because they're too "busy" and self-absorbed to make the kid a decent meal.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternotinafullblownpanic

[...] Clinical Nutrition. 2004; 79:537-543. Source: Harvard School of Public Health - Harvard University How we satisfy our craving for sugar has changed dramatically over the past fifty years. We once rel...It is found in everything from sodas to baby food. Sally Squires, a former nutrition columnist for [...]

[...] Nutrition. 2006; 83:529-542. Source: Harvard School of Public Health - Harvard University   Introduction Soft drinks are the beverage of choice for millions of Americans. Some drink them morn...inks are also coming under scrutiny for their contributions to the development of type 2 diabetes, [...]

September 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSugary Drinks or Diet Drinks:

[...] WizardRSS.com | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Store | Android Game | Wordpress Tutorials Health NewsMONDAY, Feb. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The common food and beverage sweetener fructose often gets a bad...ny worse for putting on pounds than other sugars.The new study suggests that it's the sheer number [...]

For Therese Pompa:

Therese, your explanation of the 90 percent fructose HFCS to "blend with the lower fructose syrup to make the 55 percent fructose syrup" doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Why would a company buy the pricier HFCS 90 to add to the HFCS 42? Why not just buy the HFCS 55 to begin with? Thanks, Linda

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Bonvie

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