Unable to persuade the public that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is too unhealthy or too affordable, “all natural” food activists are launching another campaign against “the crack of sweeteners” by claiming that it’s bad for the environment. Possibly moved by the persistence of these all-natural elitists, The Washington Post actually gave this tall tale credence with an entire article in Sunday’s paper.
The “expert” authority for this latest episode in HFCS mud-slinging? Meal snob and part-time food cop Michael Pollan. Americans remain unconvinced that HFCS should be avoided because it is used to produce affordable food, but Pollan hopes that associating anti-HFCSism with the “green” bandwagon will make his philosophy more popular. His evidence? Oceanic dead zones and hermaphrodite frogs:
"The environmental footprint of HFCS is deep and wide," writes Pollan, a prominent critic of industrial agriculture. "Look no farther than the dead zone in the Gulf [of Mexico], an area the size of New Jersey where virtually nothing will live because it has been starved of oxygen by the fertilizer runoff coming down the Mississippi from the Corn Belt. Then there is the atrazine in the water in farm country — a nasty herbicide that, at concentrations as little as 0.1 part per billion, has been shown to turn male frogs into hermaphrodites."
Never mind the fact that oceanographers started discovering dead zones in the 1970s — before HFCS started working its way into American and Canadian food systems — and that dead zones also exist off the coasts of Europe and Japan, where HFCS is not produced (and rarely even consumed).
Aside from bundling this free advertisement for the organic food industry with an unfortunate sweetener pun, “High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Not So Sweet for the Planet” reeks of the same kind of questionable reporting that brought us the New York Times mercury-in-tuna story. After leading with the claim that “the jury’s still out on whether the substance is to blame for rising obesity rates” (it’s not) and presenting Pollan’s claims without question, the Post concludes with this sweeping and totally unsubstantiated claim:
“The more fuel, energy and chemicals that go into processing a food, the less nutritious that food probably is. So steering clear of high-fructose corn syrup can’t be bad for your health — or the planet.”
You can also avoid risks to your health and the environment by swearing off airplane and automobile travel. Steering clear of elitist food cops and gullible journalists can’t hurt, either.