The push for greater labeling of high fructose corn syrup

Aug 16, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. ET

A hot button issue a few years ago, the furor over high fructose corn syrup has again reached a fever pitch. Advocates claim HFCS is no worse than sugar and that it's natural. Opponents feel there is more to the story.

Woman reading candy label

A few years ago, everyone knew high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was bad for you. It was linked to everything from obesity and cancer to poor performance in schools. Then a well-timed advertising campaign came along to remind us that it's not the HFCS that makes us overweight or hyper, it's our own behavior.

This campaign was a setback for opponents of high fructose corn syrup, but they have proven to be resilient and have once again made their feelings known. Do they have a good argument against HFCS or are the claims more misguided than not? Hear from both sides and make your own decision.

Viewpoint: HFCS isn't a danger

Once advocacy groups started to push back against HFCS, the corn industry and Corn Refiners Association fired back, offering a number of reasons why their product was safe. Sites like spend a lot of time going into HFCS myth versus fact, but it's really the health aspects of high fructose corn syrup that have consumers worried.

In response to health concerns, HFCS advocates will tell you that eating high fructose corn syrup is no worse than eating sugar. also claims that HFCS is metabolized (digested) by the body in exactly the same way as sugar and lactose (milk sugar).

HFCS advocates also argue against the notion that the product is unnatural. They argue that HFCS starts with corn and contains "no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives." even states that HFCS meets all the criteria to be labeled natural by the USDA.

In short, corn growers and the Corn Refiners Association don't claim that they're selling a health food. They do, however, take issue with claims that their product is somehow worse than sugar.

Viewpoint: HFCS is a problem

In terms of pure obesity, the pro-HFCS side wins the day. HFCS opponents have yet to overturn findings made in 2008 and 2009 by the American Medical Association which stated there was no conclusive link between higher obesity levels and high fructose corn syrup.

However, there's more to the story. There is evidence that HFCS is not processed in the body the same way as sugar and, because of the process in which it is made, requires little digestion at all. Instead, the components of HFCS are absorbed quickly into the body, causing dangerous insulin spikes and potential damage to the liver. Even worse, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, the elevated levels of fructose in HFCS can literally punch holes in the walls of the intestines during digestion.

Also, if you care about genetically modified crops, stay away from HFCS. dances around the issue before admitting both that HFCS can be made from modified corn and that all traces of corn DNA are destroyed when making it.

Also, there are certainly enough issues with the production of HFCS to warrant skepticism around claims of being natural. HFCS is not a naturally occurring chemical and can only be created in a lab. Strangely enough, the process of making HFCS is a closely guarded secret. Even worse, the process may be poisonous. According to an article in Environmental Health, an FDA researcher was denied access to HFCS until the researcher posed as a soda manufacturer. Once the researcher got the barrel and ran tests on it, it was found to contain toxic levels of mercury.


Ultimately, the decision to buy foods with HFCS are up to you. HFCS is cheap and a part of most commercial foods you find at the store. Therefore, cutting it out would be difficult, even if you were worried about the obesity effects. On the other hand, there is evidence that something is amiss with it and there is some cause to avoid it. Good luck making the best decision for you and your family.

Other thoughts about HFCS

5 New names for HFCS that the FDA might just approve
Could the foods your child eats cause bad behaviors?

4 Food label myths debunked