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Sugar Farmers And Corn Industry Debate Who Can Name Themselves After Poison

sugar cubes

Last year, the Corn Refiners Association decided that the term "high fructose corn syrup" just didn't have same catchy ring to it as "sugar." The solution: re-brand HFCS as "corn sugar" and launch a marketing blitz to educate the public about the wonders of this freshly named, all-natural product. Now sugar farmers are fighting back to reclaim their good name—even though it has recently been tarnished.

A group of sugar refiners and farmers appealed to the U.S. District Court last week to end the corn sugar campaign on the grounds that it is false advertising (it is sneaky, to say the least). The group wants compensation for corrective advertising and to make up for lost profits, according to the AP. The Corn Refiners association asked the government last year for the go-ahead to use "corn sugar" on product labels—and then started using the term in advertising before getting permission. "Corn sugar" isn't yet found on product labels, however.

The timing of this battle is pretty unfortunate, at least for the sugar industry. The New York Times set off a firestorm of debate recently with an article claiming that HFCS and sugar are equal, health-wise. According to the article, "the two sweeteners are effectively identical in their biological effects," which may include causing "fat to accumulate in our livers followed by insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, and so trigger[ing] the process that leads to heart disease, diabetes and obesity."

The irate sugar farmers and refiners say the lawsuit is all about false marketing—and the Corn Refiners Association may really be fooling people into thinking that sugar and HFCS are the same thing. But even if they have identical biological effects, they're really not the same.

As anyone who scans a grocery store aisle can quickly deduce, HFCS is a lot cheaper for food manufacturers to use, which is why it's found in most of the sweet products we consume. These manufacturers often use HFCS as a replacement for sugar—which comes primarily from sugar cane and sugar beets—in the cheap, overprocessed foods that many of us consume daily. Even if both forms are toxic, we should be more concerned about the government corn subsidies that allow HFCS to be so cheap in the first place, and what it says about our food system that we stuff food for the poorest people with the worst ingredients.

So shed a small tear for the sugar industry, which has to fight for its good name right while that name is being dragged through the mud. Pretty soon, neither sugar nor corn sugar will want the "sugar label." We're sure the sugar people's ad whizzes are already working on it. "Sweetening crystals," anyone?

[Photo by howzey]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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