Wednesday, September 17, 2008

High Fructose Propaganda

How is it possible that an artificial ingredient could itself be free of artificial ingredients? Take your time and think about it. It sounds like a riddle, doesn't it?

Or, if you're representing manufacturers of a subsidized chemical food additive, like the Corn Refiners Association does, this defiance of logic just sounds like the creative brief you send to your ad agency to polish up your tarnished reputation. The additive in question here is high fructose corn syrup, which has recently been given its own shiny new national television advertising campaign, along with supporting newspaper and magazine ads to tout that it's safe to eat.

Obviously, they're so proud of their syrup, they can't keep its wholesomeness to themselves. High fructose is high fun!

First, we see a clip eerily reminiscent of a political ad, where the only thing missing is a big American flag sticker on the fruit punch jug:

And then, my personal favorite, the Adam and Eve-esque temptation in the garden. I'll bet the popsicle is apple-flavored:

I'd like to step in on behalf of our befuddled heroine and hero with a response to the smarmy and condescending vituperation that stops their protests short. 'Like what?', say the Corn Refiners Association shills, to which I provide the following observations:

It isn't natural.
Simply being made from corn, or any natural substance, isn't enough to make something natural. Petroleum is ultimately made from decomposed plant matter, after all; could we expect kerosene-enhanced breakfast cereal to boast a 'no artificial ingredients' claim too?

Natural foods are minimally processed. Enzymatic conversion using an insoluble glucose isomerase enzyme preparation followed by liquid chromatography does not constitute minimal processing. If its production requires technologies that didn't exist until the 1970s, I don't consider it natural.

So what might our friends at the CRA be using as the basis for this 'no artificial ingredients' claim? Doesn't the government regulate claims like that?

Sadly, our underfunded FDA, in a long tradition of filling its payroll with staff from the industry it was designed to police, takes a loophole-ridden stance on words like natural and artificial, terms which, inanely, it does not consider to be mutually exclusive. Trawl through Title 21, section 101.22 of the Code of Federal Regulations yourself and you'll see how loose the rules actually are. Consider this ridiculous example of the semantic weightlessness on Planet FDA: Even though the FDA stated in April that high fructose corn syrup is not natural, it's perfectly permissible to claim that it's free of artificial ingredients, because the definition of natural has not been defined. Yeah, go ahead and read that sentence again; that's how clear this issue is.

It isn't used like sugar.
Let's assume the natural/artificial issue isn't important to us. Let's dig a little deeper with the level of skepticism appropriate when evaluating an argument put forth by the organization with the most to gain from its acceptance. The CRA says that HFCS isn't used by food makers because of its price - they use it because it's just so darned useful.

From their bright and cheery Sweet Surprise site, they say that HFCS "...
offers numerous benefits. It keeps food fresh, enhances fruit and spice flavors, retains moisture in bran cereals, helps keep breakfast and energy bars moist, maintains consistent flavors in beverages and keeps ingredients evenly dispersed in condiments."

Well, as a consumer, I sure love me some pragmatic food.
I mean, flavor and nutrition are nice and all, but let's be frank; shelf life is what's really important when I'm feeding my family. Whatever must food have been like before this miracle substance was invented? I mean, with HFCS, I get fresh, enhanced, moist, consistent and evenly-dispersed food, and all it costs is a few more calories.

So, from the CRA's own data, we see that HFCS is more than just a sweetener - it's also a preservative, but with as many calories as a sweetener. Food manufacturers might add a little salt to counteract any excessive sweetness created by using a sweetener as a preservative, but don't worry, consumers - salt's good for you too.

Take another look at the CRA's first ad. Now take a look back to the 1950s, for its predecessor. Just like today's ads, it was created when some executives, in response to growing public interest in some pesky scientific data that began linking their precious profit-yielding product to medical problems, decided to respond. And respond they did, with some claims of their own. I wonder how successful their campaign was.

1 comment:

Ulla said...

I love this blog!:)
They are almost funny those commercials if they did not represent such evil.