Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Sugar Is Suing High Fructose Corn Syrup: A Sticky Question of Names

When you need to give yourself a whole new image, there's nothing like changing your name: Just ask Philip Morris, Ralph Lauren and the medication formerly known as thalidomide. Recently, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the scourge of dieticians and dieters from coast to coast, has started down that road by attempting to rename itself "corn sugar." But there's one big obstacle in its way: the sugar industry, which doesn't want to be tainted by connection to the infamous sweetener -- and is willing to go to court to protect itself.

When it was invented in 1957, high fructose corn syrup's name was largely irrelevant. Unknown outside of a small circle of chemists, the compound was an expensive, hard-to-synthesize scientific curiosity. It took another 20 years and the development of a low-cost production method for HFCS to gain ground in America. But between tariffs that drove up the cost of imported cane and beet sugars, and federal subsidies that drove down the cost of corn, HFCS usage quickly exploded. In 1972, the average American consumed about 1.2 pounds of the stuff. Within seven years, that number had increased more than twelve-fold, to 14.8 pounds. And by 1999, the average American was putting away over 63 pounds of high fructose corn syrup.

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