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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2010

Rebranding a risk

High-fructose corn syrup by any other name would be just as sweet - and problematic. If the Corn Refiners Association is permitted to change the name of the popular sweetener to "corn sugar," consumers may be fooled into thinking that the ingredient found in everything from processed foods to soda is more natural and healthier than it is.

With some research indicating significant health risks linked to widespread consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, the last thing Americans need is a concerted industry move to mislead them. The association has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to sweeten its product name because it wants to sell more of the sugary stuff, but the agency should not participate in this marketing strategy.

It's bad enough that the heavily subsidized corn industry is using the term for the sugar substitute in advertising and rolling out a public-relations campaign to convince the public that it's not that unhealthy. But with sales of the corn-driven sweetener falling to a 20-year low, the business must do something dramatic.

Two new commercials suggest there's little difference between high- fructose corn syrup and cane sugar, arguing: "Your body can't tell the difference." Scientists dispute that. Their studies show the body metabolizes the sweetener differently from table sugar in a way that increases the risk of diabetes, liver disease, and obesity.

Government should be promoting health-conscious efforts to get sugar of all kinds out of our diet. High-fructose corn syrup became prevalent in the food market because it has a longer shelf life and is cheaper to produce than cane sugar.

The average American consumes nearly 36 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup a year. If the industry that produces it is allowed to sweeten its image with a new name, the public may swallow the change without knowing the associated health risks.

And that would be a huge setback to efforts that aim to reduce factors that contribute to a dangerously overweight population.



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