Corn Commentary

Spoiled Sauce Turns Stomachs at Farm Progress

Kansas City is known for BBQ, but a small company in Wall Lake, Iowa called Cookies, has been growing a good crop of BBQ sauce fans across the Midwest. Unfortunately, a poor marketing move against another hot commodity in Iowa, corn, has some at the Farm Progress looking for other condiments.   Cookies Sauces, found at the Farm Progress and other ag shows in Iowa carries BBQ sauces, condiments and even supplies golf carts, and is now feeding into the anti-high fructose corn syrup hype, promoting a signature barbeque sauce as HFCS free. Highly questionable science aside, this is a poor marketing decision on their part.

Cookies Sauces operates out of Wall Lake, Iowa, a small town only an hour and a half from Boone, the site of the 2010 Farm Progress Show.  This company is part of the agricultural community, a state where production agriculture and ag-related industries account for $72.1 billion including agri-food industries, food processing and the manufacturer of farm machinery, chemicals and fertilizer.

Cookies Sauce owner Speed Herrig has friends in the Ag industry.  The Iowa Corn Growers Association and the National Corn Growers Association are disappointed to see another uneducated spilt happening in the ag industry.

If you think the sauce leaves a sour taste in your mouth, you can contact Cookies Sauces through Facebook.

LA Times Critical of UCLA HFCS Study

Every so often you come across a single well turned phrase that you wish had come out of your own mouth.  I did so this morning while checking out a blog in the Los Angeles Times regarding the latest over-blown information purporting links between fructose sweetener and cancer.

Tami Dennis, health and science editor of the Los Angeles Times wrote the article about the recent UCLA study linking HFCS to the spread of pancreatic cancer contending that it could be an “overstatement.”

But the best line from the piece is a cutline under a lab photo accompanying her blog which said: “The road between a lab experiment and public policy is long. Or it should be.”

 Wow! Words to live by. The UCLA hype is just the latest effort to take a free-standing nugget of information and attempt to pawn it off as scientific gospel akin to Galileo’s observation that gravity works.

Dennis cites the blog Respectful Insolence in her argument.   “I hate science press releases that hype a study beyond its importance. I hate it even more when the investigators who published the study make statements not justified by the study and use the study as a jumping off point to speculate wildly.”

She is right on in her assessment. However,  the problem is the UCLA news release got huge national exposure, fructose got another undeserved whack, and a small percentage of people who read the original news story will ever see the much lower profile condemnations of this shoddy approach to research.

Gilbert Ross, M.D., Executive Director and Medical Director of the American Council on Science and Health had a similar reaction to the UCLA gambit saying, “Both the authors and the press need to retract these alarmist and unsupported claims — especially the authors, since such gross over-interpretation of a lab study is inexcusable among academic scientists. They seem to be grasping for headlines and promoting some anti-fructose political agenda.”

For more background on this issue you might want to check out a much more thoughtful piece here.

Corn Syrup and Cancer Scare Story

There is always a danger in the media reporting on scientific studies as if they were a new Gospel - which is what they tend to do, with the blessing of the scientists involved, of course - since more publicity means more grant money to do more studies. The problem is that scientific research can’t just be boiled down to a headline or a sound bite that explains it all, without being totally misleading - and one single study does not a new truth make. Such is the case with a study out of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center publicized this week linking high fructose corn syrup to cancer growth.

The sensationalized headlines are all many people will actually read about this study. “Fructose: The Sugar of Choice for Cancer Cells” and “Cancer Cells Slurp Up Fructose, Study Finds” are two of the examples - one from AOL News and one from Reuters. The more medical among the media get a little more detailed, noting that the study involved pancreatic cells in particular - which is an important detail because not all cancer cells are created equal.

You can’t entirely blame the media, since stories tend to come from press releases, which are written to get publicity. If they happen to be about a high profile social issue, like high fructose corn syrup, they tend to get more attention. As part of the press release on the study, author Dr. Anthony Heaney says that because of his research, a federal effort should be launched to reduce refined fructose intake. “I think this paper has a lot of public health implications,” Heaney said. “Hopefully, at the federal level there will be some effort to step back on the amount of HFCS in our diets.”

As a voice crying out in the wilderness, the Corn Refiners Association issued its own press release in response to the study to point out some of the premature and potentially misleading conclusions made by both the researchers and the media. One major point they make is that it is a big leap to “extrapolate the results of laboratory research on pure fructose to real-world conditions.”

This study does not look at the way fructose is actually consumed by humans, as it was conducted in a laboratory, not inside the human body. The study also narrowly compared pure fructose to pure glucose, neither of which is consumed in isolation in the human diet. Humans consume a wide array of foods that contain both fructose and glucose in combination along with many other sugars and nutrients. Most notably, both sugar (sucrose) and high fructose corn syrup contain roughly 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose.

It is also significant to note that it is difficult to pinpoint any one cause for any cancer - even smoking, since some people can smoke two packs a day for 50 years and die of old age while some who have never smoked a single cigarette get lung cancer. As the Corn Refiners put it, “To blame one component of the diet is highly speculative based on one, small study done in a Petri dish.”

HFCS Is Sweet Surprise

One of the sweetest presentations at this year’s Corn Utilization and Technology Conference had to do with high fructose corn syrup. The presenter was John White, White Technical Research. John does work for the Corn Refiner’s Association and greeted people in their booth.

John caught my attention during his presentation when he said that all the negative information you’ve heard about high fructose corn syrup is completely wrong. Whoa. All of it? Yep. There is a huge amount of factual and scientific information on the subject. He calls it a mythology that has taken hold that wants to portray HFCS in a bad light. It is basically the same as regular sugar. Plain and simple. People just want to find something to blame for weight issues and the reality is that they’re consuming more of everything. You can’t lay the blame on HFCS.

You can download (mp3) and listen to my interview with John White here:

Find good information on HFCS on Twitter: SweetFacts

Scouting for Truth: Part 2

Reduced Fat Girl Scout Cookie Ingredient InformationEditor’s Note: This is the second of two posts reviewing comments made about corn and corn products in booklets distributed by the Girl Scouts of America. Click here for the first part.

For the past few years, people have been talking about high fructose corn syrup.  At the grocery stores, on television and even on Facebook, people seem to enjoy bashing HFCS.  When questioned, most cannot quite explain why they object to the corn based sweetener.  They may reference “some study” or spew off another half piece of misinformation, but the truth is clear.   A lot of people turn anti-HFCS because of propaganda and food elitist hype.

Now, even the Girl Scouts are buying into the hoopla.  In “Sow What? It’s Your Planet-Love It!”, the publication used for girls looking to learn about their food during their “senior journey,” the Girl Scouts blast corn and corn-based products from livestock to ethanol.  Then, they join in the anti-HFCS melee too.

Noting that “corn sweeteners are full of calories but have almost no nutrients,” the Girl Scouts broadly proclaim that “some critics argue that they shouldn’t be added to our food.”

First, there is never a mention of who exactly these critics actually are.  Not only are they not sourced, the manual does not explain what sweetener these critics support using in lieu of HFCS.  HFCS, sugar and honey are all nearly identical in composition.  They have the same nutritional value and add a similar number of calories.  So do these critics suppose that people cannot enjoy some sort of sweetened food, even in moderation? (more…)

Scouting for Truth: Part 1

First of Two Parts

If you listen to the Girl Scouts, you start to hear some pretty strange things lately.  The organization that helped girls build useful skills and fostered healthy self images for generations has expanded its range of activities. Now, in addition to teaching girls skills like camping or sewing, Girl Scouts teaches misinformation about agriculture and promotes an anti-corn agenda.

For their “Senior Journey,” scouts can now select an option called “Sow What? It’s Your Planet-Love It!”  Theoretically, teaching young girls often completely disconnected from the farm where their food comes from and how it is grown should be positive and fun.  Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts have their facts wrong.

In the manual for the project, the Girl Scouts attack traditional agriculture, rouse long-dead arguments over food prices and propagate baseless accusations against high fructose corn syrup.

Here’s one example: “When you grow only one crop, a disease or pest can wipe out your entire harvest.  Therefore single-crop farmers often rely heavily on chemicals to control insects and protect crops.”

In reality, farmers today use far fewer pesticides and insecticides than they did even 20 years ago.  As growers continue to adopt hybrids with insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant traits, they have greatly reduced the need for synthetic applications of herbicides and insecticides.  The family farmers who comprise 95 percent of the farms in America strive to use fewer chemicals to produce a healthy, abundant crop. (more…)

HFCS Spoofs in Bad Taste

Mix together satirical comments that lead poisoning, female genital mutilation and the Ku Klux Klan are good for you and serve them up with a scary transvestite and you get some very tasteless “spoofs” on a “Sweet Surprise” ad for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

The real ad features mothers at a children’s party discussing high fructose corn syrup in a fruit flavored drink being served to the kiddies. One woman comments that the woman pouring the drinks must not care what the kids eat because, “you know what they say” about HFCS, but she can’t explain what is so bad about it. So, she changes the subject and compliments the server on her blouse.

The New York Times article last week about HFCS was kind enough to draw attention to some very disturbing spoofs on the ad, made by two Los Angeles “comedians,” featuring “a man in drag playing the syrup-loving mom, though this time she is also defending lead from China, female genital mutilation (“It’s safe in moderation”) and K.K.K. cross-burning.” Yet another sick one that can be found on YouTube spoofs that ad by replacing HCFS with Nazism. Cute.

I think of a spoof being something that is satirical AND amusing. These so-called spoofs are mean, nasty and downright scary. If you want to make fun, at least be funny. These just leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Even Food Critics Stand By HFCS, So Why the Fuss?

The New York Times highlighted the misrepresentations and unsubstantiated claims used in the ongoing assault on corn syrup in a story last week.  While approaching the issue in a couched tone, author Melanie Warner notes that many industry experts who normally criticize agriculture disagree with anti-corn syrup hype while pointing out that the Sugar Association is obviously behind at least some portion of the campaign to demonize the sweetener.

What the story points out is shocking to a reasonable individual.  With regular industry critics such as Marion Nestle, Executive Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest Michael Jacobson, Director of Weight for Life Clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston David S. Ludwig and Harvard Department of Nutrition Chair Walter Willett defending corn syrup, why would anyone continue to believe it is somehow less safe to eat than sugar?

Even Barry Popkin, the University of North Carolina Professor who coauthored the 2004 study that brought the American obesity epidemic into the spotlight defends corn syrup.

The Times quotes a Los Angeles Times story from July of 2008 where Popkin said that “recent studies ‘have convinced me that HFCS does not affect weight gain.’”

So how do people continue to believe the baseless attacks waged on HFCS?  The article provides a perfect example in the explanation of Ivan Royster, a college librarian, who shares the view that many other HFCS critics do- that for some reason it is less natural and harmful in a way that science just can’t explain.  Furthermore, he promotes this belief through his Facebook page to over 120,000 “friends.”

What the article fails to point out is that this stance is ridiculous verging on dangerous.  With studies such as the one noted above and industry experts, including Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan, defending corn syrup’s safety, a reasonable person should be able to tell the hype from the facts.  Instead, unqualified zealots combat science by turning a blind eye and instead vigorously promote what is at best myth and at worst slander.

In doing so, these activists create confusion for the average consumer overwhelming them with media messages that, while vague and inaccurate, are ubiquitous.  Consumers deserve accurate, unbiased information from sources that have well-reasoned arguments and verifiable data.

Don’t give into the hype.  While some companies have chosen to recreate their products using other sweeteners, realize that they are only acting to capitalize on the aura of fear.  The products are not safer and will not help consumers lose weight.  Vote with your pocketbook and buy the same products that you have always enjoyed.  Enjoy creations using corn syrup, a homegrown, natural sweetener, with complete comfort in their safety.

Don’t Take HFCS Attacks Sitting Down

It seems that every new study that comes out involving high fructose corn syrup, no matter how flawed, makes huge headlines.  The media hype surrounding HFCS would lead the average person to believe that by simply cutting HFCS from their diet they could become the slender, athletic person they have always desired to be.  In a culture that values the quick fix, it is no wonder that this idea is gaining traction.

It is almost indisputable that the U.S. currently faces an obesity epidemic.  With a growing population of people growing in their midsection, our society faces serious repercussions such as decreased life expectancy and increased healthcare spending.  In the face of such a grave situation, it is irresponsible to blithely suggest that simply removing one ingredient from American diets will reverse this trend.

As most responsible, respectable academics concur, obesity results from a combination of factors and not the ingestion of one insidious ingredient.  Instead, sedentary lifestyles and an abundance of affordable food together create a situation where uncontrolled weight gain comes easily.

Don’t buy into the media hype.  Think for yourself.  If the chemical make-up, caloric content and sweetness of sugar and HFCS are nearly identical, why would one product cause more significant weight gain?  If only five percent of the corn crop is used to make HFCS, why would detractors act as if it is a conspiracy to use this safe, affordable product to ensure foods meet market demands?

Taxing and demonizing HFCS will not benefit the obese, the average consumer or our country.  Curing obesity requires positive lifestyle changes that embrace caloric moderation and physical activity.

So show the HFCS detractors that you are smarter than they think.  Examine and analyze information, take responsibility for your own health and do not allow them to demonize our quintessential American crop.   Here’s one great resource.

Exposing the Sweetener Scam

The Center For Consumer Freedom is not only working to get the truth out about HSUS, they also have a website and advertising dedicated to exposing the sweetener scam.

“Most of what you think you know about sweeteners is probably wrong. Some of this is a product of simple misunderstandings. The rest is a giant scam.” includes great information about science and nutrition, sweetener myths and facts, how sweeteners are made and how they compare. Not only that, they have a couple of nicely done print and television ads with the message that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is just the same as other sweeteners and is being falsely accused of making us fat.

Watch CCF’s “Sweetener Lineup” commercial here:

Meanwhile, as companies like Pepsi and Starbucks have been dropping HFCS from beverages, the March issue of Consumer Reports attempts to set the record straight, noting that taking this kind of action “may well have more to do with marketing than science.”

A sweetener made from cornstarch processed with enzymes and acids, HFCS has roughly the same composition as cane sugar—about half glucose and half fructose—and the same number of calories. Concerns that it’s directly responsible for rising obesity rates or somehow intrinsically more fat-inducing than sugar are largely unfounded, though researchers continue to study whether the body handles HFCS differently.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

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