High fructose corn syrup v sugar and other political solutions
IT’S a general truism that politics doesn’t actually solve much: it’s really just a way of working out who gets what without resorting to slaughter and rapine as a method of division. However, in that solving not very much part of each political solution is the kernel of the next grievance which we need to use politics to resolve.
Take, for example, the little spat in the US over High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and sugar. It’s all a he said/she said nonsense over what you can say about the two different sweetners.
Big Corn and Big Sugar are locked in a legal and public relations fight in the US over a plan to change the name of a corn-based sweetener that has gotten a bad name.
The fight began last year when Corn Refiners Association, a trade association, proposed changing the name of high-fructose corn syrup to merely “corn sugar.”
The group said the new name “more accurately describes this sweetener and helps clarify food products labeling for manufacturers and consumers alike.”
But the sugar industry argued this change would be a bitter pill for US consumers and would only add to the confusion about a sweetener that has drawn criticism by some health advocates.
Sugar producers have filed suit alleging the corn industry has spent $50 million in “a mass media rebranding campaign that misleads the consuming public by asserting falsely that HFCS is natural and is indistinguishable from the sugar extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets.”
It is possible to tell the difference between the two, this is true, up until about 5 seconds after it hits the human gut, at which point both are indistinguishably a mixture of fructose and glucose.
But the point about this catfight is that the whole thing is a product of earlier political decisions. The US subsidises the production of corn (what we call maize) and it also taxes very heavily the import of sugar. The corn subsidy goes to corn farmers, the heavy sugar import tax is a subsidy to the cane sugar farmers. The import tax is so heavy that inside the US sugar is twice the world price: and it’s only that twice the world price that makes it even thinkable to make HFCS out of corn rather than just using sugar in the first place.
They’d be far better off to get rid of the import duty, at which point there would be no domestic US cane sugar growers nor would anyone bother to make sugar substitute out of maize. But given that they’ve already made the political decision to subsidise both groups they’ve now got a political fight to deal with over which of the two should be called sugar.
As I say, many current political problems are just the results of the last set of political solutions. And we’d certainly have fewer current problems if we hadn’t had so many past political solutions.