Politics and High-Fructose Corn Syrup

High-Fructose Corn Syrup is Simply Sugar Produced From Corn

June 28, 2009
High-Fructose Corn Syrup is becoming more and more common these days as it is appearing on the ingredient labels of more and more foods. A few people have questioned the possible health effects of this ingredient and this has caused the industry to respond with a series of TV and print ads promoting the benefits of high-fructose corn syrup.

High-fructose corn syrup is a type of sugar that is produced from corn and it is being increasingly used as a substitute for cane and beet sugar as a sweetener. Like cane and beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup provides energy for the body to burn, will not help dieters lose weight and has the same effect on the body as regular sugar as far as people with diabetes are concerned. High-fructose corn syrup is not to be confused with artificial sweeteners which are designed to provide the sweet taste of sugar without the other effects of sugar described in the previous sentence.

Why High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

This Hub is not about the health effects of high-fructose corn syrup. I am not an expert on this topic and, from what little I have read, high-fructose corn syrup appears to me to be a simple substitute for cane or beet sugar and its consumption should be regarded as the same as regular sugar.

The question that I am addressing in this Hub is, since high-fructose corn syrup is basically the same as regular sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets why are we suddenly using this corn product in place of the traditional sugar our society has used for the past 500 years?

The simple economic answer is price. High-fructose corn syrup costs less than regular sugar. Not only does it cost less but it is also more readily available due to increasing demand for sweeteners and shrinking supply of cane and beet sugar as sweeteners.

It is About Politics, NOT Economics

If the switch to high-fructose corn syrup was just about economics, this Hub would have ended with the paragraph above. However, while the forces of supply and demand are the economic reason why high-fructose corn syrup is less expensive than cane sugar we are not talking about the invisible hand of the market guiding the price but rather the price being guided by the greedy hand of Congress paying off special interests in the sweeter market.

In the case of both regular sugar and high-fructose corn syrup this is more than Congress's favoring one group at the expense of another. Here they are helping to channel money to both groups at the expense of American taxpayers and consumers.

As I discussed in the section entitled The Politics of Sugar, in my previous Hub on Political Rent Seeking, as far back as the early years of the Twentieth Century, Congress began protecting American sugar producers with tariffs on imported sugar.

Tariffs and Quotas

Tariffs have historically been a key revenue source for governments since ancient times. However, their are two types of tariffs. The first is known as a revenue tariff and this type of tariff is simply a tax, like a sales tax, that is designed to produce revenue for the government. The second is known as a protective tariff and this type of tariff is designed to make it unprofitable to import and sell the product being taxed. While the importer is forced to pay the tariff when the goods enter the United States, the importer adds the cost of the tariff to the product thereby making the consumer the ultimate payer of the tax. Like most taxes on business, tariffs, both revenue and protective, are a means by which Congress can extract money from citizens without taking responsibility for taxing them directly.

Ironically, while liberal politicians refuse to acknowledge that high income taxes can discourage work they readily use high protective tariffs to discourage the importation of products that compete with the products of their special interest supporters.

Both revenue and protective tariffs have played a major role in American history. Prior to the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution which allowed the Federal Government to tax people's incomes, revenue tariffs were the major source of revenue for the Federal Government. Protective tariffs have been used from the early years of the Republic down to the present and it was outrageously high protective tariffs which led to the Civil War in the mid-Nineteenth Century.

In addition to high protective tariffs, Congress has also enacted various import quotas on sugar. Unlike tariffs, quotas don't generate revenue for the government (however, like tariffs, they do require the government to spend considerable amounts of taxpayer money to pay bureaucrats to manage and enforce them as well as higher lawyers to write the complex laws and regulations). Instead, quotas put an absolute limit on the amount of the product that can be imported so that, even if people want to pay the high cost that results from the addition of the tariff, they can't. Quotas are thus a more direct way to drive up the price of an imported product thereby making it uncompetitive with those produced by special interests who support Congressmen backing such legislation.

American Citizens End Up Paying for All of This Many Times Over First as Taxpayers and then as Consumers

As I stated in my recent Hub about Treasury Secretary Geitner and his income tax problems the Federal Tax Code consumes over 100,000 of highly complex legalese and is growing daily. Sugar quotas and tariffs have added their share to this mess as well as adding to the ever growing body of federal regulations. All of these cost citizens, in their capacity as taxpayers, money to support and manage this as well as, in their capacity as consumers, money to pay the additional cost not only of sugar but of every product that contains sugar.

Then we come to high-fructose corn syrup which is less expensive than sugar solely because we, as taxpayers, have been paying farmers growing corn to grow more. In other words, high-fructose corn syrup is less expensive than sugar ONLY because we have been forced to pre-pay the difference with our tax dollars in advance.

And, it doesn't stop here as, in addition to subsidies for growing corn, we also have our tax dollars subsidizing the production of corn based ethanol  in order to make it affordable at the gas pump and then are forced, by law, to purchase the subsidized ethanol in order to run our vehicles. Of course, this additional subsidy and legally mandated artificial demand for corn based ethanol drives up the price of high-fructose corn syrup thereby making us spend more at the grocery checkout. Don't worry, if high-fructose corn syrup, despite its numerous taxpayer supplied subsidies, begins to become more expensive than sugar you can be sure that both the sugar and corn special interests will see to it that their friends in Congress increase the tariffs and quotas on imported sugar.

Government is Usually the Problem and Rarely the Solution

Former President Ronald Regan was fond of pointing out that the government doesn't solve problems, rather IT IS THE PROBLEM.  And, the story of the politics of high-fructose corn syrup is but one tiny illustration of how politicians in Washington work tirelessly to make sure that we, as a nation, never run out of problems.

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Comments 14 comments

Chuck profile image

Chuck 4 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Andrew - for the science, which I just touched on briefly at the beginning of this Hub while acknowledging that I was not an expert on the science and was therefore limiting the science to a simple definition of what high fructose corn syrup, my source was this WikiPedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_fructose_corn_sy... This WikiPedia article also contained a brief description of sugar quotas and their effects on the price of sugar in the United States.

I used the following three sites for background data and fact checking on prices and legal history of the tax and quota legislation with regard to protection of the sugar industry: http://www.sweetenerusers.org/Sugar%20Price%20Pape...

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=14...

http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/sc019

I have both a bachelor and a masters in economics and have taught economics at the college level for over 20 years so I am very familiar with how tariffs (taxes on imports) and quotas (legal limits on the amount of a product that cam be imported) affect prices and the demand for substitute products. Over the years I have read a number of articles on sugar tariffs and quotas (they have been distorting the sugar market for so long that they have become a minor classic in the literature).

In addition to the links above I have links within the Hub to related articles on government economic policies and their effects on the economy.

Thanks for visiting my Hub and for you comment.


Andrew 4 years ago

where are your sources chuck? for the science? for the politics? for the economics?


rocky 7 years ago

I agree with your viewpoint completely.


Horatio Baccus profile image

Horatio Baccus 7 years ago from PDX

Actually HFCS is always stored as fat. When I was spry pre-schooler drinking coca-cola I was freaking crazy hyper. Now a days kids drink hella Mountain Dew and sit in front of their x-box for hours because unlike normal sugars, HFCS is stored as fat and not burned as quick energy. Hence hyper kids became lazy fat kids.

The invisible hand has proven to be useful at squeezing the throat of the working class and is about as trustworthy as the clergy with kids. Trusting the wealthy to do all the good that need to be done in a society is like trusting wolves to watch sheep. By encouraging the purchase of local products, with pricing tariffs, you effectively promote local industry, this leads to more jobs, leading to a stronger economy and more profitability and thus more people who can afford the foreign or unsubsidized product if they want it so badly.

I have always found it funny that economic conservatives rallied around the national security flag. Don't you realize how your glass towers and stucco palaces are kept safe by the very social programs you seek to have defunded. If there is one thing history has proven about us poor folk is we can be a revolting lot. Anyone with nothing to lose is a threat to the society and therefore it is best to insure that every body has something. Why do you think one of the wealthiest men in this country was the one to enact half of those social programs? He understood the best way to protect the wealthy from the poor, is to eliminate the poor by making them content.


BaliMermaid profile image

BaliMermaid 7 years ago from Ubud Bali

What I worry about is the reportedly tested fact that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is never digested by our bodies, but stored instead in, as yet, unknown locations in our bodies. How can something we never digest be good for us. This digestibility problem does not exist with any of the other, currently, known sugars. If this is true then HFCS is far from just a simple sugar substitute.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

Excellent reportage. I agree with your viewpoint completely. Thanks.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Skgrao, even if the only sweet thing you eat all day is fresh fruit, you are taking in fructose, which is a kind of sugar. If you are very serious in limiting all forms of sugar, you would end up on a low carb diet. However, sugar in moderation and in a more or less natural form is not necessarily always bad for you.


skgrao profile image

skgrao 7 years ago from Bangalore City - INDIA.

Is it not possible for us to do away with any form of sweetner or sugar daily.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Madame X - thanks for your comment.

I have seen some articles claiming that high-fructose corn syrup contributes to thw obesity problem in America. So, in addition to using our tax dollars to increase the prices we pay for numerous products, we also apparently end up paying taxes to help harm our health. Like I said in this Hub, not only is government the problem, but creating problems is the main thing the government produces.

Thanks again.


Madame X 7 years ago

Government interference - why am I not surprised. Corn syrup, just for your information, helps keep the pounds on. You've heard of the "American obesity problem" of late? It wasn't so bad until a of couple generations grew up on things sweetened with corn syrup rather than just sugar. More and more people are avoiding it. Great hub though, Chuck. I like your thinking.


ocbill profile image

ocbill 7 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

anything sweet that is not natural, typically is not as good for you as the organic version.

Maybe less people will need weight loss surgery in the future if they properly care for their health by reviewing the ingredients of the sneaky food manufacturer earlier in life.


Chuck profile image

Chuck 7 years ago from Tucson, Arizona Author

Aya Katz - Now that you mention it, I got the idea for this Hub from your request and fully intended to submit it as a reply to your request. Unfortunately, I started it but other demands on my time prevented me from finishing until now. When I resumed my writing I forgot that it was supposed to be a response to a request.

Glad you liked it though.

Chuck Nugent


bobmnu profile image

bobmnu 7 years ago from Cumberland

Interesting hub. Several years ago I worked with a man from North Dakota and he told me that there was a Coop that bought Sugar Beets from farmers but set quotas to keep the price at a profitable level for the farmers. Corn Farmers are a big block of votes and always looking for a hand out.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Chuck, thanks! This is the hub I was trying to request that someone write about High Fructose Corn Syrup.

HFCS does not taste as good as sugar. Under normal conditions it would not be cheaper and people would not prefer it to sugar. Thanks for pointing out that government intervention in the marketplace is the cause.

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