Selling Corn Syrup
It’s all about the spin. I remember back in the early 90’s when medical reports encouraged people to eat less red meat for their health we started seeing the “Beef. It’s What for Dinner” ads. PR to convince us to buy more stuff that isn’t good for us. Well as more people are realizing the dangers and ubiquitous nature of High Fructose Corn Syrup, the Corn Refiners Association has jumped into full PR spin mode. They recently launched a $30 million advertising campaign to convince consumers that HFCS is a natural compound like honey. (It’s made from corn so therefore it’s natural right?) Forget that it can only be made in industrial laboratories using numerous chemicals (including stuff like sulfuric acid), the FDA ruled earlier this summer that it can be labeled as “natural.” Hence the advertising campaign. Take a look at this recent commercial.
Playing on people’s fears and lack of information, the Corn Refiners have hit the sweet spot in labeling lingo. If it is “natural” then it must be good. But honestly even if we buy that “natural” claim, there are still numerous issues with this commercial. First substitute in another natural sweetener like sugar or honey into the dialogue and yes, as a mom I would be worried about feeding that to my child. Added sweeteners are unnecessary and unhealthy. They are a special treat, not just everyday afternoon snack fare. Who cares if HFCS is from corn and is just like sugar and honey – it is just like sugar and honey – full of empty calories and dangerous in large amounts.
The PR spin is necessary because we are consuming HFCS in crazy large amounts. It is in everything, its health issues hidden because it isn’t labeled as sugar. Corn is a veggie and most people might not know that HFCS is a sugar. If they bother to read the ingredients at all the impact of HFCS at the top of the list doesn’t hit them. And so obesity issues and diabetes continue to rise as the food that is easy to find and consume is stock full of high empty calories. And that doesn’t even account for the number of other health issues and allergies that are linked to HFCS.
Because HFCS is so popular (its in everything), most of the corn that is grown is very similar. We have lost the historic varieties of corn and the array of nutrients they provide. We now eat a very nutrient poor form of corn that not only sweetens most of our food but is the feed for the cows and chickens we consume. Our diet in essence is based strictly on corn. This is a health risk as we need a greater variety of nutrients to stay healthy. But it is also a societal risk to rely on one substance as our main food supply. If corn somehow faced a blight like potatoes did in Ireland, we would be facing a serious food crisis.
But even beyond the health risks, by supporting the use of HFCS one is supporting a seriously broken economic system. Our market is flooded with corn. It is a highly subsidized commodity. Farmers must grow ever increasing amounts of corn that are sold at low prices. Without the government subsidies most farmers would make no profit on their corn at all. But the more corn one grows the more subsidies one receives. So farmers must turn to genetically modified corn that is copyrighted (meaning they must buy new seed each year). They must use vast amounts of fertilizers and pesticides (some which are built into the genetic structure of the corn itself). These chemicals not only destroy the ecosystem and poison water supplies, but they are oil based. To grow this corn we are expending large amounts of oil, an ever dwindling resource in our world.
In addition the US reliance on corn to insert into all of our food has encouraged more farmers to grow the corn. Since the government subsidizes it (and not other varieties of veggies), it is a way for farmers to actually make a living as a farmer. But only US farmers. There is a huge surplus of US grown subsidized corn that continues to flood the world market. Other countries cannot compete. World organizations have declared the subsiding of food on the trade market illegal, but the US continues to subsidize. Good for our multimillion dollar agribusinesses, bad for family farmers around the world. Counties like Brazil are seeking to sue the US for illegal trade practices, but one doubts the affect such suits will have.
So as one soccer mom embarrasses another mom for her lack of knowledge and encourages her to feed HFCS to her kids, there is a lot more at stake than just a pseudo-natural product. The Garden of Eden parallels in the commercial are frightening. But I guess that’s just good marketing – getting us to not just desire, but eat the forbidden fruit. And we just play along…