Killing Us Gently
The American Beverage Association (ABA) sells some of the most popular non-alcoholic beverages in the world. Carbonated soft drinks make up 73% of that total. Americans spend roughly $93 billion annually on refreshment beverages (about $357/person). The ABA believes that all beverages are part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle and helps this along by producing various sized beverages so as to incorporate different, that is larger, serving portions into diets.
That is what the ABA says about itself. Let's stop here for a moment. $93 billion in refreshment beverages. $93 billion -- why? What has Americans hooked? Caffeine, yes, but the ABA sells 7-Up and Sprite, which contain no caffeine, if we believe the PR and product labeling (which the ABA is fighting to get rid of). But even more disturbing is the contention that soft drinks are part of a healthy diet. Which healthy diet? Whose -- Atkins'? Other than the ABA, who else makes the same claim? But it sounds good, so people believe it. After all, the ABA is an authority. In reality, this claim about soft drinks being part of a healthy diet is specious.
What are these profits? With approximately 122.5 billion servings/year (or 471 soft drinks/person/year), the soft drink industry rakes in about $93 billion. Of course, no mention is made of the fact that 43% of those profits are from government subsidies, what is colloquially called "corporate welfare." Fifty-seven percent of $93 billion is about $53 billion. How does a $53 billion/year business rate a subsidy when so many Americans are in dire straits? How is it that the corporate sector can receive welfare when such subsidies are shameful for the individual and considered a wasteful expense?
One of the answers lies with bought friends in the government: our Senators and Representatives. In 2005, however, things became even more secure: the ABA hired, as Senior Vice President for Communications, Kevin Keane who was Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at Health and Human Services (HHS). He was an advisor to Tommy Thompson. He was hired to direct the strategic communications program, read propaganda. That is, the ABA managed to acquire an inside touch. Mr. Keane can help science along in support of the ABA, as Mr. Bush helps science support his rapacious programs.
Another answer lies in corn subsidies and sugar tariffs.
What this means is that Coke and Pepsi's profit margins are supported by government taxes, thanks to corn grower subsidies. A subsidy is used to help the farmer make up the loss between cost to produce and higher marketing costs. That is, if a farmer spends $1 to produce one bushel of corn but market value is 80 cents, the government makes up the other 20 cents -- plus a little more so the farmer can make a profit. Thus, there is complicity with the Department of Agriculture. Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) is the biggest player in this market and the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare, which costs the government billions but people tens of billions (in higher prices and higher taxes). While $1 of corn sweetener profits costs you, the consumer, $10, the government paid $49 billion in corn subsidies from 1995-2004.
ADM buys 12% of the nation's corn and turns it into High Fructose Corn Syrup.
We are bilked because part of the money to pay these subsidies comes from our taxes. We are, in effect, paying twice to drink a Coke or Pepsi. This means that buying corn and making High Fructose Corn Syrup -- not a naturally occurring substance -- is far cheaper than using sugar. Why? Sugar tariffs. A tariff is a tax placed on some substance or other that is imported. Sugar. Sugar tariffs give us $2.25/lb of sugar; without the tariff that would perhaps be $1/lb. Thus, by way of putting a ceiling on homegrown sugar production, the tariffs inflate the cost of sugar and deflate the cost of corn, which means importing more sugar. So, ADM prefers to buy excessive corn at excessively low prices. This equals not only great savings but indecent profits. In order for ADM and the ABA to wreak obscene profits, we must pay more.
How does this corn subsidy-sugar tariff affect the soft drink behemoths? A six cent increase in sweetener amounts to $6.1 billion; a one cent increase to, $1.2 billion; a 1/10 of a cent increase, $122.5 million. Fructose is about 75% sweeter than cane sugar (sucrose), so Coke and Pepsi don't have to use very much fructose to attain an equal sweetness. But the cola goliaths found a way to concentrate -- make stronger -- fructose. To create sucrose's sweetness an even smaller amount of High Fructose Corn Syrup is needed. Although fructose is naturally occurring, High Fructose Corn Syrup is not. Creating more of a conundrum is the fact that most all of the corn used to make High Fructose Corn Syrup is genetically modified, seedlings that ADM sold and then buys back as ripe corn to make into High Fructose Corn Syrup. And herein lies a problem: the ABA claims that High Fructose Corn Syrup is natural.
This "naturally occurring" sugar substance -- High Fructose Corn Syrup -- is the ABA's attack on science and public concern over the ill effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup:
Obesity and diabetes are serious health problems in the U.S. that deserve meaningful and effective interventions, not the shallow gestures advocated today. Current Nutrition Facts Panels and labels on soft drinks already provide consumers with key information they need to make the beverage choices that are right for them, including information on calories, sugar, caffeine, sodium, and other contents. To ask the FDA for warnings labels on soft drinks, or any food products that contain caloric sweeteners, patronizes consumers and lacks common sense. Where would such a food “hit list” stop? Even skim milk and thousands of other food products could potentially fit into a CSPI labeling scheme because of the sugars contained in those products. (Press release of 13 July 2005)
Warnings about possible dangers to our health are "patronizing"? It lacks "common sense"? Skim milk "and thousands of other food products" (many of them sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup) could potentially fit into a CSPI "labeling scheme"? Why no mention of High Fructose Corn Syrup? I can't answer these ridiculous questions but I can answer the ABA's question about where "such a food 'hit list'" would stop: at the healthy foods--which means all foods not manufactured by the ABA, ADM, Cargill, Monsanto and Atria.
Why would the ABA feel constrained to make such erroneous assertions if there was nothing harmful about High Fructose Corn Syrup? In 2004, the ABA released nine articles discrediting scientific evidence of the problems with High Fructose Corn Syrup. Why is the ABA so defensive if High Fructose Corn Syrup is "safe and natural"? (Cf. press release of 2 August 2005)
The scientific evidence, the medical evidence, is that High Fructose Corn Syrup causes obesity and leads to type 2 diabetes. This trend in obesity in America correlates to the ABA's beginning of sweetening their drinks with High Fructose Corn Syrup in 1995. Such reports can be found in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Medical Study News, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism and The Journal of the American Medical Association. But for the ABA, the problem is lifestyle. In the ABA's sophistry, they quote from The European Journal of Epidemiology (2003:18): "Contrary to popular belief, data do not suggest a higher proportion of sucrose in the diet increases risk for type 2 diabetes independent of body fatness." Excuse me, Kathleen Dezio (ABA spokeswoman who penned this press release of 24 August 2004), but the medical profession isn't faulting sucrose: the problem is High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Here, too, is another addictive substance: sugars. If sugars are addictive, a highly concentrated sugar would be more addictive, as big tobacco found with nicotine. Not an untoward parallel, for Phillip Morris is a major player in the food racket -- under the name of Atria. (Cf. www.navdanya.org) As may be remembered, Phillip Morris was the corporation that knowingly peddled addictive substances in the form of cigarettes, including to children. Aren't the ethics here a little slim? Phillip Morris is also the largest producer of foods that stock the shelves of supermarkets, foods high in High Fructose Corn Syrup. This corn syrup has spread throughout the food supply in the U.S. Here again, we have an ethics breach: In the mid-1990's, ADM was the object of an FBI probe into price fixing.
Research shows that High Fructose Corn Syrup raises triglyceride levels, which increases the risk of heart disease (triglycerides are fats in the blood). Another study found that fructose-rich diets have other deleterious effects, including glucose intolerance, insulin resistance and liver dysfunction. (Richard Wasnich and Jon Ruckle, Radiunt Research). The increase in diabetes, particularly early onset diabetes, is certainly related to this new additive in the American diet. (Cf. "Report of the International Obesity Task Force of the World Health Organization," New York Times, 31 Oct 2003) Indeed, further research showed an 80% increase in risk of type 2 diabetes when people consumed High Fructose Corn Syrup -- and not in huge doses. All it took was one soft drink or fruit drink per day. Walter C. Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health says, "Anyone who cares about their health or the health of their family would not consume these beverages." There are even doctors from Yale University Center backing such reports. (Cf. Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest)
In "Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity" by George A. Bray, Samara Joy Nielsen and Barry M. Popkins, the authors found that the consumption of High Fructose Corn Syrup increased 1000% between 1970 and 1990. In 2000, High Fructose Corn Syrup represented 42% of all sweeteners. Although HFCS-42 was initially the only High Fructose Corn Syrup component, by the early 1980's, HFCS-55 had become the major source, constituting 61% of all High Fructose Corn Syrup in use in 2000. (HFCS-42 is 1.16 times -- 116% -- as sweet as sucrose; HFCS-55 is 1.28 times as sweet.) Bray, et al., also found that the increased use of High Fructose Corn Syrup in the U.S. mirrors the rapid increase in obesity.
However, from the public health perspective, the question of whether there are other agents that could trigger the present obesity epidemic must be looked into. These are such things as reduced levels of physical activity, a decrease in smoking, increased portion sizes, eating out (and at fast food restaurants) and changes in the kinds of foods eaten. Nevertheless, the introduction of High Fructose Corn Syrup and the increased drinking of soft drinks and other sweetened beverages has led to increases in total caloric consumption.
Unlike glucose -- the sugar that sucrose turns into during digestion -- fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion because it bypasses the pancreas. Insulin acts in the regulation of food intake and body weight. As glucose enters cells by a transport mechanism that is insulin-dependent in most tissues, glucose can be metabolized in any cell. In contrast, fructose enters cells via a transport system that does not depend on insulin. This transport system is absent from the pancreas and the brain, which indicates limited entry of fructose into those tissues. Thus, while glucose provides satiety signals to the brain, as it were, fructose cannot provide this because it is not transported into the brain. Thus, insulin appetite control, the sense of being full, is non-existent with fructose -- or High Fructose Corn Syrup -- use. This suggests that sweetened beverages enhance overeating, for a higher insulin concentration inhibits food intake. Thus, the lower insulin concentrations induced by High Fructose Corn Syrup enhance eating.
Another concern is that High Fructose Corn Syrup is metabolized in the liver where it is converted into the chemical backbone of triglycerides (see above). That is, Havel also attests to High Fructose Corn Syrup bypassing the pancreas and the sugar-insulin controlled equation.
In the U.S., High Fructose Corn Syrup is found in almost all foods, including soft drinks, fruit drinks, candied fruits, canned fruits, dairy desserts, flavored yogurts, most baked goods, cereals and jellies. Over 60% of the calories in apple juice comes from fructose. High Fructose Corn Syrup is ubiquitous. Lists of foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup can be obtained from organizations concerned with related allergies; that is, High Fructose Corn Syrup causes allergies. Yet another unwelcome side effect. (See also www.foodfacts.info/blog) And to think... Americans consume about 63 lbs. of High Fructose Corn Syrup annually.
In the face of all of this scientific and medical proof of the ill effects of High Fructose Corn Syrup, the ABA has only misleading, specious press releases... and government compliance. That is, not only does the ABA not care whether U.S. citizens sicken and die, neither does the government.
Jim Secor is a freelance writer currently living and working in China. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.