Sugar vs. Corn Syrup: Lies & Cover Ups


In breaking news this week, the legal battle between the sugar and corn syrup industries escalated when emails discovered in more than 500K pages of subpoenaed documents revealed misgivings among the top corn syrup executives about their Sweet Surprise ad campaign.

The emails show that some top level executives were wary about calling corn syrup “natural.”

In a 2010 email, Archer Daniels-Midland spokesperson David Weintraub wrote:

I think we’re unnecessarily asking for trouble by using the ‘natural’ language…. I don’t think we really gain much in the mind of the audience or customers and I think it provides a point to ridicule the ads and the industry comes off as being disingenuous.

The ads, you’ll recall, were ridiculously folksy:

Of course, Weintraub’s fears were not misplaced. Many of us did, in fact, ridicule the Sweet Surprise campaign.

Further emails from Corn Refiner’s Association president Audrae Erickson (from April 2009) boldly claim that the Corn Refiner’s Association should not be publicly associated with the ad campaign, saying “Our sponsorship of this campaign (should) remain confidential.” (source)

Shortly after the campaign began airing, the Corn Refiner’s Association petitioned the FDA to legally change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to the more natural-sounding “corn sugar.”

At the time, Weintraub’s emails revealed that he felt the name change would be “dishonest and sneaky.” (source)

(And, for what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen that the sugar industry is lying to us.)

Thankfully in 2012, the FDA officially denied this request.

Nevertheless the emails reveal that not everyone in the corn syrup manufacturing industry was on board with the Sweet Surprise campaign and the following FDA petition.

“How can something that comes from a big chemical factory really be natural?”

Good question! One that these emails reveal corn syrup executives were asking among themselves. (source)

So that leads to my next question.

Did they honestly think we’d be duped?

They had reservations. They knew the word “natural” would be disingenuous. They knew the “corn sugar” appellation was “dishonest and sneaky.”

Yet they spent millions of dollars on this campaign anyway, and have since been spending thousands of dollars in lawsuits with the sugar industry over their choices.


What did they hope to gain?

Were they successful?

I’d appreciate your thoughts!

(photo by dinner series)


  1. Monica Hoffman Fintel via Facebook says

    As an RD I was absolutely furious they did those folksy commercials saying there’s no difference!!! Which is why I haven’t joined AND for decades and I support Dietitians For Professional Integrity:).

  2. Denise says

    Why am I seeing an ad for Diet Dr. Pepper on this website. Your loosing credibility….I guess even the good ones sell out to make money.

    • says

      Please know that the ads on my site are what’s called “interest-based ads.” These are nicknamed “follow ads” because they follow you around the Internet. In other words, what is displayed in the ad is dependent on your browsing behavior. So when I visit my site, for example, all I see are ads for hotels and car rental places because I have been planning an upcoming business trip. When I was researching why tampons were dangerous, I started seeing ads for maxi pads. Likewise, when you visit my site, what you see will vary as well based on your recent browser history.

      • Jan says

        I was wondering why I kept getting tire ads after my husband was looking for tires. Good to know ads “come to you”. I pretty much just ignore them. (I wonder what Denise was looking for earlier…)

    • Molly says

      Denise–I see ads for personal trainer certifications (as I’ve been researching them), so the ads are based on your search history on the computer you’re using. 😉

    • Mike says

      What diet Dr Pepper advertisement? I believe what you’re seeing is a reflection of your own browsing habits. Whoops, you goofed!

  3. J in VA says

    I’ve been seeing lectures online that teach that ANY refined sweetener or artificial sweetener is bad for you and should be severely limited.

    One lecture I saw said that women should limit their sugar intake to 6mg a day=1 1/2 tsp. Too much fructose or sucrose (which is half fructose)is like drinking fat as far as your liver is concerned. Fructose + fiber = fruit and is good.

  4. Julia says

    I find it interesting that those executives spent all their time debating the marketing of a crappy, unhealthy product instead of the fact that it is a crappy, unhealthy product and, hey, maybe they shouldn’t be producing it at all.

    Also, according to the article, this all came about in a court case between two branches of agribusiness: 1) the corn syrup manufacturers, and 2) the Big Sugar industry, which wants to keep pushing GMO beet sugar on everyone. Either way, the public loses.

  5. Juanda Gropp says

    For years, since 1980, I read the labels on everything I buy and don’t buy anything with corn in it, I’m boycotting GMO everything. They don’t get one dollar from me.

    • Pat Nelson says

      Check your prescription meds, over the counter meds, vitamins, skin care products, etc. Corn is hidden in everything. If you put it in your mouth or on your body, there is probably corn in it. We have banned GMO’s in our household. It is amazing where we find them hiding in products. Good luck and be healthy!

  6. Walter Barnett says

    It’s my understanding that Pure Maple Syrup is supposed to be healthy. And, since we live in the Southeast (Houston)
    I’m not sure the stuff we have down here is natural. My wife uses regular ol’ pancake syrup and I try always to use Blackstrap Molasses or Honey. What are the chances of finding some good all-natural Maple Syrup in Texas?

  7. Jill says

    I love this article. The first time I saw one of those commercials I laughed at how ridiculous it was. They didn’t fool me, not for a second.

  8. John Reeve says

    The renaming scam is indeed, deceitful, but the tip of the iceberg.

    1. 99.9% of the corn produced in the US is GMO
    2. It is generally processed with sulfur dioxide/water to improve extraction. It’s cheap, but sulfite is carried over into both the cornstarch and HFCS.If you have sulfite sensitivity, don’t touch it.
    3. When I contacted the makers of Karo light corn syrup, they said that this product was 100% glucose, with NO HFCS.
    4. The enzymatic conversion of the starch extracted from corn is done because it gives a higher fructose (sweeter) product. Of course it is safe for humans, just ask the food giants.

  9. Brittany says

    I live in corn country and my husband made a great point when those ads were airing: Ethanol is “natural” and “comes from corn.” But I still wouldn’t want to eat it.

    Also, I think those ads backfired in some cases. They made my dad (not at all a real foodie) start asking why they were going to such lengths to convince people HFCS was okay. Hopefully other people saw right through it too.

  10. Adam says

    The reason they went through with the advertising campaign is because the elites who tell those concerned CEOs whats GOING TO HAPPEN are a bunch of dinosaurs that won’t die and they just don’t ‘get it’. What do the elites really have in common with the demographic these ads targeted ? The answer is next to nothing. This ad campaign is the equivalent of asking your great grandmother to make the plans for your bachelor weekend in Vegas…Because of the elites disassociation and subsequent disconnectedness we occasionally we get to see their folly in ridiculous ad campaigns like this one.

  11. Jude says

    I laughed at these ads when I saw them, but they also made me angry. I know people who bought this lie hook, line and sinker and I battle with them all the time over it.

    The other one that we have here (WI) that makes me angry is the one that assures us that once ethanol is made the rest of the corn gets used ‘for feed for livestock’. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to eat livestock that has been finished with byproducts from the ethanol process.

    Corn is just bad. Bad for people, bad for animals and bad for the environment.

  12. JoAnne says

    This may be off point but what about agave nectar? It is also highly processed and the dark syrup is produced from the burned pieces as I understand the process. I feel that people have been duped by this industry as well. My sweeteners of choice are organic coconut palm sugar, maple syrup and honey in that order and all used in extreme moderation. I think that the American population is extremely gullible, we want to believe those pretty commercials and have forgotten how to think for ourselves. That is a dangerous mindset but Madison Avenue’s dream.

  13. Kathleen says

    I couldn’t believe the actress would say such a crazy comment,( “Whether it’s sugar from corn or cane, your body views it the same way”) and promote consumption of any sugar without questions. We clearly can see in our world today with the rise of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, that the intake of any sugar in the processed form and in large amounts IS something to worry about!

  14. Janette says

    I’m sad to say that I’m one of the public that believed the ads. Yes, my head is hanging in shame (if that helps any). I feed my daughter only organic foods whenever possible so I don’t think we’ve suffered overtly from my ignorance? It does make me very grateful for this article – thanks for helping me become better informed!

  15. says

    Thanks for the article but I don’t see an explanation here of why what they said in the commercial was incorrect. I am interested in learning the facts. It feels incorrect but that isn’t persuasive enough, nor is the statement about the “chemical factory.” I want real diagnostics here, facts and figures. Otherwise it is just playing on my emotion just as the ad intended. Maybe I missed a page? That is entirely possible.

  16. Pat says

    It’s just shame. It’s so obviously causing issues for people and they still put out ads! I use sucanat, which is cane ground up. That’s natural!

  17. says

    Thanks so much for your really great post.

    Would you be kind enough to provide specific links as to what you were referring when you said “breaking news this week”?

    The only item I found was this —

    I’d like to post something on my Sugar Shock Blog, too.

    Of course, I’ll quote you, too, if that’s OK with you.

    Connie Bennett

  18. says

    I remember thinking those ads were a desperate attempt at fooling the public. Unfortunately I know people that did buy into the commercials and would not listen to the truth. I think some people prefer to live in the dark, that way they don’t have to make ‘tough’ changes.

  19. Laura Terrell via Facebook says

    I don’t think anyone in the sugar industry is on our side. They’re all pretty much the same and we get entirely too much of all of it.

  20. Laura Terrell via Facebook says

    I thought that mazola commercial was absolutely ludicrous. You would not believe how incredibly corrupt the corn industry is. You can basically blame them for the poverty and cartels in Mexico after the passage of NAFTA. They’re not even allowed to grow their own corn even though it had been a staple food there for thousands of years.

  21. Alice Benham via Facebook says

    I was going to bring up the Mazola commercial, but I see that several beat me to it! I think America is waking up, and the corn industry is getting desperate.

  22. Michelle Norah via Facebook says

    Like the one a couple years ago that said HFCS is just sugar, and “in moderation it is not harmful” except it’s in EVERYTHING, so if you eat anything packaged, there is no way you are consuming it “in moderation”

  23. says

    @Michelle: Here’s something very interesting I’ve found. Recently, the WHO is working to push a recommended limit to sugar consumption and they recommended no more than 10% and 5% of total calories can induce benefits. I went inside my local Starbucks store and picked up a bottle of Tazo green tea ( Now, if my math is right (like it always is), for a 2,000 calorie diet, if one were to drink this product, they’d go over 5%. For a 2,500 calorie diet, if one were to drink this product, they’d be about five calories away from meeting 5%. Because of how the implications and availability of sugar in the food system, these guidelines were pushed and without doubt, no way people are consuming foods in moderation. In fact, no one has to purchase a Coca-Cola bottle from a vending machine of some hospital to meet these limits. They’re in everything.

  24. Gene Vacca via Facebook says

    I’m not being sarcastic here but it’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep. Have you ever run a big business? You shouldn’t feel so scorned by this ineffective ad campaign. This is in simple terms a response to the public’s wishes, albeit not a very good one and the emails prove that. It seems that products containing HFCS have become something a percentage of the public is refusing to buy. This is a 911 wake up call for any business. If you get congress to change a law, you’ve done something. If you get big business to change their product or change how it’s marketed, it probably means there was an overwhelming public support for the change and they were losing money. And this ad is a prime example of big business responding to public demand. Congratulations to the public, they’ve learned the one fool proof trick; stop buying it!

  25. Jeff N Gina Stevens via Facebook says

    Kathy, maybe it’s more HOW it’s produced, not the similarities. Show me how you make margarine, in your own kitchen and I’ll eat it. I’m amazed that this view is still held.

  26. Culinary Caveman says

    The only problem here in the mindset of the CRA is that these emails were made public. It has affected their business only marginally, if at all, they’re making millions, if not billions. Let’s just hope they save some to pay the fines when they finally get blamed for causing obesity and more . .

  27. says

    I am not a fan of cane sugar, but the process for making it is pretty straight forward. Corn syrup cannot be made without a lab/factory. There are dangerous chemicals used in the processing, trace amounts of which could be left in the final product. Also, corn syrup is made from GM corn, whereas cane sugar is not a GMO. White sugar made from beets DOES come from GMOs, however.

  28. Michaela Bitner via Facebook says

    Unless it is raw honey, pure maple syrup, or dates than yeah sugar is all the same essentially. Its all bad for you, your body still processess it like a drug…even coconut sugar.

  29. Karin O. Shepherd-Buchanan via Facebook says

    I know you can buy Organic corn sugar…i’ve bought it for a recipe here and there. I don’t know if there’s a huge difference metabolically in your body when using it, but i’m pretty sure it’s a better source of ingredients. For the amount of it that I used and the few and far in between times i’ve used it for things I make, not going to freak out about it…but, as for eating things pre made, I do my best to stay away from it.

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