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The Green Life: Big Bucks to Boost a Sweetener's Image

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October 23, 2008

Big Bucks to Boost a Sweetener's Image

Corn High-fructose corn syrup, the ubiquitous sweetener pumped into soft drinks, bread, and a variety of processed foods, has been pummeled by nutritionists as being a gateway to obesity. Others (including corn industry representatives), cite studies showing that the body can't tell the difference between high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugar. Either way, consumption of the sweetener has been on the decline for a decade. The Corn Refiners Association is trying to change that with a new $30 million advertising campaign, Grist reports.

Health effects aside, HFCS is also an environmental issue--and not only because turning acres of yellow corn into ultra-sweet syrup requires a great deal of energy. Most corn is grown as a monoculture (meaning only one crop on a plot of land), which requires more chemical treatments than rotating crops.

Author Michael Pollan explained some of the consequences earlier this year in the Washington Post, describing the environmental footprint of high-fructose corn syrup as "deep and wide."

Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country -- a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites.

We don't suppose the new ads will mention that. Instead, the campaign site touts HFSC as a "flavor enhancer" that can replace the “pinch of table sugar grandma added.”

--Michael Fox

Share your thoughts: What do you think about high-fructose corn syrup?

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