The Corn Refiners Association (C.R.A.) has produced its 2008 Corn Annual. The thrust of the report, captured in the title, is "Changing the Conversation about High Fructose Corn Syrup."
Audrae Erickson, president of the C.R.A., comments, "Our industry launched a nationwide multimedia campaign to correct the record on high-fructose corn syrup by addressing mischaracterizations and misinformation in the public domain. The campaign, grounded in science-based facts and buttressed by credible outside experts, puts forward an irrefutable message: that high-fructose corn syrup and sugar are nutritionally the same. The 2008 Corn Annual focuses on our efforts to change the conversation about high-fructose corn syrup and serves as a commemorative review of this extraordinary campaign."
The campaign is truly extraordinary in that it is a multimillion dollar effort by the C.R.A., financed by its members, to debunk the "urban legend" that connects HFCS consumption to health concerns, including obesity. It is unheard of in the history of the corn wet milling industry. Not even during the introduction of HFCS in the 1970s was such a massive advertising and public relations campaign mounted in support of a food ingredient, particularly one that has been so widely accepted by the food processing industry. But a look at the shipments of products of the corn refining industry may hold a clue as to why the members of the C.R.A. pledged their support for this initiative.
Both 42 HFCS and 55 HFCS showed declines from 2006 to 2007 of 2.7% and 3.5%, respectively. Interestingly, the report showed that total per capita sweetener deliveries fell to 136.6 lbs in 2007 from 139.2 lbs in 2006, a decline of 1.9%. Two elements of those shipments — refined sugar and HFCS — also fell. Refined sugar fell 0.6% to 62.1 lbs per capita from 62.5 lbs. HFCS deliveries fell 3.4% to 56.3 lbs per capita in 2007 from 58.3 lbs per capita in 2006.
The 731 million lbs commercial weight reduction in year-over-year shipments may have played a role in galvanizing the industry to action.
The recession with which we are all too familiar was beginning to bite in 2007. There is generally a reaction to bad economic times in reduced consumption of almost everything. But the impact was felt particularly strongly in carbonated soft drinks — the stronghold of HFCS. Although the C.R.A. has not published 2008 shipment data, there are reports of continued slight declines in HFCS shipments through 2008. The economy certainly did not improve in 2008.
The continued decline in starch shipments in 2007 of 1% accelerated in 2008 as paper mills took extended shutdowns. One of the "canary in a coal mine" indicators of a recession is coated paper demand. As magazine ad pages decline, sales of coated paper decline at the same pace. Another factor, less important than magazine print pages, is the reduction in the dissemination of printed annual reports. The Internet option has allowed many companies to ship printed reports only if they are requested by shareholders. Several other companies have inserted uncoated copies of 10-K between a coated paper glossy cover. All of these factors drove down starch demand.
The bright spot for the industry in 2007 was exports, which jumped 397 million lbs, or 16%, during the period. A majority of that increase was in HFCS shipment to Mexico. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has indicated that in 2008 the strong dollar and weak Mexican peso as well as low sugar prices in Mexico for much of 2008 conspired to reduce HFCS exports from the United States to Mexico for last year. These pressures of lost sales make the rebuilding of the consumer’s enthusiasm for HFCS critical to the industry as it moves forward.
In the report, former Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer restated the U.S.D.A.’s support for HFCS:
"In March, U.S.D.A.’s Agricultural Research Service and the non-profit International Life Sciences Institute co-sponsored a workshop to address the state of the science on dietary sweeteners containing fructose. A related issue is that the name high-fructose corn syrup implies this sweetener is unusually high in fructose, but this is not the case since it is about half fructose, just like table sugar.
"During the U.S.D.A. workshop, university and private industry scientists who have studied the effects of fructose and other sugars on health, concluded that high-fructose corn syrup is no different metabolically than table sugar. Details will be published soon in the Journal of Nutrition.
"High-fructose corn syrup is a familiar ingredient in our foods because it works well in food and beverage production and lends texture and browning ability to baked goods. U.S.D.A. scientists were the first to report a technique adopted by industry for the production of high-fructose corn syrup.…
"Without development of corn sweeteners, new technologies in corn starch, processes for wet milling — to name but a few — our modern day lives might not seem so modern these days. Now, that’s perspective."
The acceptance and growth of HFCS in the U.S. food industry was one of the truly dramatic innovations and changes of the last century. The resurrection and continuation of this ubiquitous product in the 21st century is the C.R.A.’s goal.
This article can also be found in the digital edition of Milling and Baking News, May 19, 2009, starting on Page 36. Click