President Bush has been urged to revise a government report which suggests that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is responsible for obesity.
In an unusual joint letter to the President, consumer group Center for Science in the Public interest (CSPI) and trade organization Corn Refiners Association (CRA) said the 2006-2007 Annual Report of the President's Cancer Panel "reinforces the myth" that HFCS and sugar might affect the body differently.
HFCS, a sweetener derived from corn and used widely in the food and beverage industry, especially in sodas, has been at the center of a fiery debate after a number of studies linked it to higher body weight. Campaigners against the ingredient point to science showing that the body processes the syrup differently than other sugars due to the fructose content, leading to greater fat storage.
This has placed the ingredient on the black list of many consumers, and food and drink manufactures are responding by removing it from their products.
However, trade bodies such as CRA have repeatedly claimed there is no scientific evidence to suggest that HFCS is uniquely responsible for people becoming obese.
In the letter sent this week to President Bush, CSPI and CRA write: "the 2006-2007 Annual Report of the President's Cancer Panel diverges from accepted science in its unfair effort to identify high fructose corn syrup as a uniquely important contributor to obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer."
"The report's multiple, pejorative references to HFCS are unwarranted and risk mistakenly reinforcing the myth - now effectively disproved by a steadily growing body of research evidence - that HFCS and sugar might affect the body differently."
The report states that farm subsidies lead to increased production of HFCS, implies that such increased production leads to lower prices and greater consumption, and suggests that HFCS promotes weight gain and obesity more than does table sugar.
It recommends that the government structure farm supports to encourage increased production of fruits and vegetables and limit farm subsidies that promote the production of high fructose corn syrup for use in food. It also calls for further research on the role of HFCS in obesity.
The letter, sent on Monday to the White House, is not in the usual vein of action by outspoken CSPI, which tends to campaign against industry and the use of certain ingredients that may be considered harmful.
However, the group has always maintained its actions are based on "sound science", and it has now come forward to back up the use of an ingredient that it believes is scientifically sound.
"While CSPI certainly thinks Americans are consuming far too much sugar from cane and beet sources and HFCS, research demonstrates that the body treats those sweeteners in the same way. It is time to kill the "urban myth" that HFCS is more harmful than sugar (sucrose)," said CSPI.
"The myth apparently developed because some people believed that HFCS is virtually 100 percent fructose, but, in fact, is about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, the same as sugar."
CSPI and CRA highlight three recent studies in their letter, which show that the human body metabolizes HFCS and sugar in the same way. These appeared this year in the publications Nutrition, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.
The letter also emphasizes that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not treat HFCS any differently from sucrose or other sugars under nutrition labeling regulations.
It concludes that: "as a respected source of information, the President's Cancer Panel serves an important role in disseminating credible, scientifically based information to the American public."
"We urge that a corrected edition of the 2006 2007 Annual Report be published as soon as possible and that the edition on the Internet be revised immediately to provide the public with science-based facts regarding high fructose corn syrup."