Insights by Goldie
HFCS: How sweet it isn't at PCC!

Sound Consumer | January 2008

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

In December it became official: PCC no longer carries products that contain the increasingly controversial sweetener known as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

This darling of mainstream processed food and beverage manufacturers for more than two decades has also been increasingly appearing in "natural" products — and therefore on many natural foods store shelves — but no longer at PCC!

This was a sound decision made for multiple reasons. It is exactly what our environmentally aware and health-conscious members and other shoppers expect of us.

Practical application of the 'Precautionary Principle'

In recent years, many public health and environmental scientists have become convinced that critical decisions affecting public health and the environment should not be made by relying only upon the test of "risk-based analyses."

Such analyses may carry an unacceptable level of risk. Instead, a more appropriate and equitable decision-making model, is the "precautionary principle."

Basically, the precautionary principle means that when there's doubt about the health consequences or safety of a product, practice or policy, it's not the public's responsibility to prove it too dangerous but rather the producer's responsibility to prove it safe.

They must provide such assurance (proof) of safety before it can cause harm. This principle is reflected by popular aphorisms such as "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and "Better safe than sorry."

PCC's decision to remove HFCS ingredients — as well as other decisions promoting the well-being of our shoppers and the environment — reflects that line of thinking. By employing sensible precaution, PCC has reinforced its long-standing commitment to continue to keep the co-op aisles as "weed-free" as possible, making your shopping experience easier, safer and more enjoyable.

But, for the record, we want you to know that items containing high fructose corn syrup never did number more than a small handful relative to the thousands of organic and other natural products we've stocked. That's because we tracked the research and consumer concerns for years.

Researchers still are studying HFCS, attempting to connect the dots definitively between increased use of HFCS and increased health issues, such as the alarming rate of obesity in kids and adults, diabetes, and liver and heart disease.

Is there absolute proof? No, and that may not ever be possible but neither has proof of safety been demonstrated. Meanwhile the public health crisis is growing exponentially.

Subsidies, feedlots and HFCS: connecting dots

As dependence on HFCS in processed foods expanded in the past two decades, that time frame correlates with expansion of federal farm subsidies.

Originally intended to provide support to family farmers in emergencies beyond their control, most such subsidies in fact have enriched the largest corporate growers in the nation. Subsidies basically pay them to produce tons of feed grains, such as corn and soy, annually — most of them genetically modified.

This glut of cheap feed is no accident but rather direct economic largesse to enrich industrial giants whose political clout in Congress is awesome. Such grains fatten millions of cattle, hogs and poultry every year in filthy, cruel, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Dangerous and polluted slaughter facilities and packing plants support them, also subjecting thousands of low-paid workers to wretched and dangerous work. Every year, millions of tons of meat from these facilities are recalled for gross fecal contamination — and that's only the very small percentage that is caught by inspectors.

Subsidies result directly in industrially raised meats that are hazardous to our public and environmental health. They also provide the refined cornstarch that is the source for HFCS, the cheapest source of industrial sweetener for more than 20 years, sometimes half the price of beet or cane sugar. What a sweet deal, huh?

Michael Pollan, the investigative journalist, has done an excellent job of raising our awareness of many of these abominable practices in his 2006 book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma." He also has referred to this whole mess as "the 'cornification' of the American food system."

I think that describes perfectly the chain of circumstances and the end game of an out-of-control, greed-ridden, corrupt and dangerous industrial agricultural system that subverted what should have offered an occasional hand up for family farmers rather than a handout for corporations who have shown they care nothing for public or environmental health.

More about: food safety, health concerns, high-fructose corn syrup

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