NYT Misses the Point: The Fight Over Corn Syrup isn’t About Health

A recent article in the New York Times on the debate over high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) makes the following points:

  • Customers are demanding that manufacturers replace HFCS with sugar
  • Scientists generally agree that HFCS is no healthier than sugar
  • Sugar costs 40% more than HFCS
  • Companies are tired of the complaints so they’re trying to rename HFCS as “corn syrup” to make it sound more natural

Personally, I’m inclined to agree that HFCS is no better or worse for you than sugar. Chemically, they’re basically the same. That said, the desire to use less HFCS makes a lot of sense, but for environmental reasons, not health ones.

The existence of HFCS is the result of America over-producing and over-subsidizing corn, and thus looking for new, innovative ways to package and sell it. The fact that sugar costs more should be considered a feature, not a bug. It should cost more, because then we’ll consume less of it and we’ll all be healthier.

So, while I’m not sure the anti-HFCS crowd has dietary science on their side, I think their overall goals are absolutely correct. The environmental costs of using so much corn are quite high. Long before oil started spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, the area has been an ecological dead zone, due to the runoff from nitrogen-based fertilizers in the Midwest and Great Plains that are used to grow, well… more corn.

All of this is ignored in the article. And while I understand you have to limit the scope of your inquiry in any given article, to not even discuss the environmental history of HFCS seems like a big miss.