The Sweet Appeal Of Anti-Sugar Legislation

Sure we've all had sugar highs (and even hangovers — we blame the truffles), but no one is experiencing sugar's revenge more harshly this week than the American Beverage Association and the Corn Refiners Association. The two organizations have been thwarted by these sweet crystals (and NYC Mayor Bloomberg), but we'll be surprised if they relent without a fight.

NYC's ban on large-size sugary drinks

On Wednesday the Bloomberg administration proposed its newest health initiative — a ban on large-size sugary drinks (a.k.a. no more jumbo-sized sodas). Now sugary drink addicts can join smokers and restaurants in their frustration with the mayor's seemingly endless proposals to whip New Yorkers into shape. Naturally, the mere mention of a soda size cap sent moviegoers and New York's Beverage Association into hysterics. Below are Bloomberg's proposed changes, according to The New York Times:

  • Sugary drink sizes will be capped at 16 ounces in restaurants, movie theaters, street carts and bodegas that are designated as food service stores
  • The size ban won't affect grocery stores or convenience stores
  • Sugary drinks include beverages like pre-sweetened ice teas, sports drinks, energy drinks and soda
  • It does not include diet soda, fruit juices, alcoholic beverages or dairy-based drinks
  • It also excludes drinks with fewer than 25 calories per 8 ounces
  • The ban could go into effect as early as next March and pends approval from the Board of Health

High fructose corn syrup will not be called corn sugar

Two years ago the Corn Refiners Association (you may know them from their "Sweet Surprise" campaign) petitioned the FDA to have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) renamed "corn sugar" on the grounds that the label HFCS was confusing customers. On Wednesday the FDA finally denied the CRA's request. In the FDA's rejection letter, Michael M. Landa clarifies the position of the Corn Refiners Association, writing, "You state that consumers are confused by the name 'high fructose corn syrup,' that consumers incorrectly believe that HFCS is significantly higher in calories, fructose, and sweetness than sugar, and that the term 'corn sugar' more accurately reflects the properties of HFCS based on consumer ratings."

Nonetheless the request was rejected on the grounds that high fructose corn syrup is a liquid and thus not a sugar since it is not "solid, dried and crystallized." In addition, the term "corn sugar" already exists in the form of dextrose (glucose), whereas HCFS also contains both glucose and fructose.

To make matters more complicated, the Sugar Association (which represents sugar beet and cane growers) filed a lawsuit against the CRA over the proposed name change. This lawsuit has yet to be resolved, but as Dr. Marion Nestle points out, the whole argument is truly a question of correct terminology. Sucrose from sugar beets and cane and HFCS both contain sucrose and glucose and thus are both sugars. The takeaway? Neither should be over-consumed regardless of the name.