High fructose corn syrup, the central ingredient in most sweetened drinks and processed foods, is on the decline. According to a new 2013 projection by the US Department of Agriculture, the amount of corn used to produce the sweetener will drop to its lowest level in 15 years.
This latest data is part of a steady decline in the sweetener’s popularity. Americans consumed an average of 131 calories of high fructose corn syrup every day in 2011, a 16 percent drop since 2007. At the same time, consumption of soft drinks, the main vehicle for the corn syrup, dropped 21 percent from 1998 to 2011.
High fructose corn syrup is linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Several cities have launched anti-obesity campaigns that may be partially responsible for public opinion turning against the sweetener. Another factor may be the rising cost of corn in recent years; high fructose corn syrup has been heavily subsidized by American taxpayers, keeping production costs artificially low:
For decades, corn syrup benefited from the relatively low cost of corn compared with sugar. A tripling of corn costs since 2004 has lessened that advantage, while consumer obesity concerns and negative publicity have also eaten into demand, said Lauren Bandy, an ingredients analyst with Euromonitor International in London. […]
The sweetener industry often contests that high fructose corn syrup is being unfairly demonized while traditional cane sugar is overlooked. But according to USDA statistics, Americans aren’t replacing high fructose corn syrup with sugar to satisfy their sweet tooth. Though sugar intake has risen 8.8 percent since 2007, total sweetener production is still down 14 percent since 1999.
High fructose corn syrup producers have worked hard to alter their image, even requesting the USDA change the product’s name to “corn sugar.” As the diabetes and obesity epidemics are particularly prevalent among minority and low-income communities, the sugary drink industry has aggressively targeted their marketing to black and Latino children. But as this latest USDA data indicates, the industry may be losing ground against minority-heavy cities that are gradually lowering their obesity rates via robust anti-obesity policies and campaigns.