Your Input Wanted: The Discussion Continues with the Corn Refiners Association

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Perhaps you’ve been following the dialogue I’ve been having with Therese Pompa, the social media manager for the Corn Refiners Association. We started speaking after I posted a Saturday Night Live video satirizing a high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) commercial, and then we subsequently exchanged a pair of letters. As you’ll see below in our second exchange of letters, I felt Therese was dodging my concerns about HFCS, and she in turn felt that I am “not trying to have a genuine conversation.”

So let’s have that conversation. Readers, please leave any comments, questions, or concerns below that you have about high fructose corn syrup. As always, please remain respectful and thoughtful in doing so. Therese, feel free to comment yourself, or ask people from your camp to contribute their ideas.

I know people lead busy lives so I have included excerpts below from the links Therese sent that I believe sum up the argument being made by each commentator. I also plan to invite the commentators to participate so that we can offer as balanced a conversation as possible.

Please read the two preceding letters if you have not already done so, as the following letters pick up where we left off:


We have different beliefs and passions, and that is okay – that is what makes the world go round.  And I too appreciate the open dialogue and being able to candidly discuss where we are at, and how we can get to a better place.

No system is perfect, we are not perfect.

We want to discuss both sides and we want to address concerns, but actions speak louder than words.  Let’s start here, help us understand how we can better provide this information to shoppers so that they can have clarity on sugars and how much they should be consuming. Let’s discuss more where you are coming from, so that we can provide better information to others who may have the same questions and concerns as you do?

We do appreciate your feedback on our campaign as well.

Thank you,
Therese Pompa

My response:

Dear Therese,

We just came to the conclusion that we don’t agree on the implications of high fructose corn syrup, so I don’t see how the Corn Refiners Association would take any of my suggestions seriously.  But based on the thoughts in my last email, the corn industry could start with more transparency and acting with integrity to build the public’s trust.  You asked me how I thought you could provide better information to shoppers, and how to have clarity on sugars and consumption, but it is the work of your industry, not mine, to decide how to implement those changes.

Further, I was disheartened that you didn’t address any of the concerns I had in my last email — such as the Marion Nestle quote remaining on your website — and instead responded so briefly, saying “nobody’s perfect.”  To me, this continues to show a lack of accountability on the corn industry’s part and frankly a resistance to the “open dialogue” your position professes to create.

You agreed that high fructose corn syrup has an image problem.  If you want to prove that the corn industry is listening to the public’s concerns, then please tell me what your industry is doing to change perceptions, as the commercials (now used as comedic fodder) are clearly not working for many people.  A scientific study from your camp refuting one of ours doesn’t work either, as not one has been deemed conclusive by both sides.

Show that the corn industry acknowledges that high fructose corn syrup may be metabolized differently than sugar, and have different effects, and wants to work to figure that out, whatever the outcome.  Your industry needs to directly address the concerns people have, however erroneous you may think them to be, and not skirt around them instead.  That would be a start if you are genuinely interested in changing people’s minds.

I appreciate the fact that you are willing to have a continuing dialogue.  I hope it can result in progress for both sides.

Jane Bills

And, finally, her response with commentator links:


I know you felt as if I did not address some of your questions prior, and the reason why is because I wanted to have a dialogue, and thought that would be more important than going tit-for-tat.   However, you pointed out in so many words yourself that you do not trust us, so hopefully you can find the following information from independent commentators helpful.

When I said we are not perfect, I meant with how we are communicating.  I don’t feel it demonstrated a lack of accountability, as I don’t think any of us are perfect.  If we were perfect in our communication efforts, then more people would see the science and facts for what they are.   Part of the problem is the lack of trust that you noted.  You don’t trust us, you voiced that, and to get past that barrier you want us to state something that is not true.  We are providing shoppers with information, and since you make a goal to do the same, I thought we could have a dialogue that involved us getting the bigger picture message out there, but you don’t seem to be interested in having that conversation.

I sent you links that challenged the Princeton study.  Keep in mind that they are not our statements, they are independent experts.  The Princeton study is the only study that alleged metabolic differences. But these were in rats, not humans; the study had many flaws which independent people have identified; and not one study has been able to replicate those findings.  Many other peer reviewed studies show that HFCS and sucrose are metabolized by humans the same way, but as you said, us going back and forth with studies is not going to make a difference.

A number of independent experts have spoken out on the misinformation, and these are people who have no affiliation with us.  I hope you and your readers will take a look at what is being said by others, even if you disbelieve us.  And when looking at studies keep in mind that most all studies that get picked up by the popular press involve large amounts of fructose, not HFCS, which are fed to rats, not humans, with the results then misapplied to HFCS.  Why should we not challenge studies when the science is faulty, or when HFCS was not even used in the study, but it is mentioned in the press release?  As you can see, we are not the only ones who feel this way….”I hate science press releases that hype a study beyond its importance. I hate it even more when the investigators who published the study make statements not justified by the study and use the study as a jumping off point to speculate wildly.” Orac at, Respectful Insolence Blog, August 5, 2010

Experts that you can talk to:

Is Sugar Making Us Fat? A piece by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N., who provides her view on this whole debate in a podcast.  You may actually know of her, along with Joy Bauer:

EXCERPT: “Most foods that contain HFCS are highly processed, calorie-dense foods without a lot of nutritional value. If you avoid this one ingredient, it’s going to take a lot of unhealthy foods out of your diet. I’m all for it. Just don’t confuse the carrier with the culprit. All added sugars, including natural sugars like honey and agave nectar, contain fructose. And all of them will increase your risk of weight gain if you consume them in excess.”

Is Corn Syrup Worse Than Sugar? A piece by Joy Bauer, M.S., R.D., C.D.N

EXCERPT: “Short-term studies performed in humans suggest that the two sweeteners are metabolized the same way. For example, when researchers give individuals two different beverages sweetened with either sucrose or high fructose corn syrup and measure their blood sugar levels, hormone secretions, and appetite ratings in the hours immediately following ingestion, they see no differences in how the two sweeteners are processed. But the research is ongoing, and questions remain concerning the relationship between corn syrup consumption and body weight over the long term.”

The Truth about High Fructose Corn Syrup.  A piece by Becky Hand, RD/LD This is an interesting piece as Becky once thought there was a sugar/HFCS difference as well.

EXCERPT: “The fructose and glucose in table sugar are chemically bonded together, and the body must first digest sugar to break these bonds before the body can absorb the fructose and glucose into the bloodstream. In contrast, the fructose and glucose found in HFCS are merely blended together, which means it doesn’t need to be digested before it is metabolized and absorbed into the bloodstream. Because of this, theories abound that HFCS has a greater impact on blood glucose levels than regular sugar (sucrose). However, research has shown that there are no significant differences between HFCS and sugar (sucrose) when it comes to the production of insulin, leptin (a hormone that regulates body weight and metabolism), ghrelin (the “hunger” hormone), or the changes in blood glucose levels.”

Skeptoid by Brian Dunning. You may have head of Brian Dunning, he debunks a lot of myths and does it with third party credible information.  The biggest takeaway for me, is his note about where to look for credible scientific information

EXCERPT: “The fact is that there is huge correlation between HFCS consumption and obesity, and all sorts of obesity related conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Nobody disputes that. The problem arises when people make the common error of mistaking correlation for causation. There’s an equally valid correlation between obesity and dirty dishes. The cause of obesity and obesity related diabetes is overeating more calories than you burn. It makes no difference whether you overeat food containing pure cane sugar, food containing HFCS, or organic spinach: Too many calories is too many calories, and you’ll become obese and suffer the same obesity related complications no matter what you ate to get you there. Fat is fat.”

I do want to have a dialogue, as I acknowledge that there are concerns out there that need to be addressed. But I am not sure if copying and pasting my e-mails into your blog and then pushing them out through all of your social channels is the way to accomplish that.   Specifically comments like this one, “Let There Be Bite: Oh boy, just got another letter… this one’s good too. More to come!”  Honestly,  these kinds of comments make me feel that you don’t want to have a genuine conversation at all.

I hope you can find these other views helpful.

Therese Pompa

Mar. 22 2011 |
  1. jane

    I’ll start things off: Monica Reinagel’s podcast touches on the main issue I have with HFCS. I agree with her that eating an increased amount of sugar, in whatever form, is detrimental to our health. My problem with HFCS is that it is hidden in a wider variety of foods than it was 40 years ago, including salty food, and consumers do not think to look for sugar in salty foods, and I find that to be a deceptive tactic on the corn industry’s part. I understand it may hinder the corn industry financially if people know to check the sugar counts in salty foods as well, but if the Corn Refiners Association cares about decreasing the general consumption of sugar, as Therese has said it does, then why not build some awareness around this? It would certainly lend integrity to your movement and show people that the corn industry is genuinely concerned with the public’s overall health. I would really appreciate if the Corn Refiners Association could address this question.

  2. jane

    I think one “trust issue” people have with HFCS is the true ratio of fructose-to-glucose versus sugar. It is often cited as a 55-to-45 ratio, but a recent article found that soda can be as much as 65-to-35: Sugar is 50-to-50. Do you not think this higher fructose ratio could cause a long-term health issue?

  3. andrew

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge on these topics, Jane and Therese. Very interesting discussion.

    My questions are:

    Are there specific ongoing studies that can help add clarity to the debate around HFCS? Has/will the Corn Refiners Association sponsor any studies?

    In recent times, have the recipes for HFCS been adjusted/modified at all by the Corn Refiners Association to make it more healthy? If so, why were the changes made? Are there any changes to the recipes envisioned for the future?


  4. Abby

    I think the most important point to take away from all of this is one that LTBB has been preaching for years: it is critical to be aware of what you eat. All of it. Being an informed consumer is incredibly important in this world, both from an economics perspective as well as a health perspective. Honest labeling and open conversations will go so far to help the American consumer (me included!) lead healthier lives. LTBB’s call for proper labeling and awareness is the first step toward achieving that goal. The second step is that of the consumer to read the label and be aware of what they’re putting into their body. It grosses me out to think that things like fruit juice need, not only more sugar, but an artificial one at that. Isn’t fruit already sweet? Why add anything to it? Let alone a manufactured ingredient? And now that I know that, I as a consumer can shop specifically for 100% fruit juices.

    Why would an industry that is putting out a useful product want to hide that? If it’s all about “enhancing fruit and spice flavors” why not shout that from the rooftops? My hunch is that because once people knew how much of our food products it is in and why, they would likely buy less of those products. Maybe not stop completely, but certainly less.

  5. Nancy

    Regardless of whether we learn definitively that HFCS is processed differently by our bodies than other sugars, one thing is clear. HFCS has led to an explosion of high sugar, highly processed foods that have led to our obesity epidemic and the obesity-related ailments that now plague our society. Big Food isn’t looking for ways to get more fresh produce on our tables. It continues to create a wealth of HFCS sweetended low/no nutrition processed foods that have a stable shelf life and high profit margin.

    How do we get Big Food to move toward selling real food? How do we wean consumers off of tasty, high sugar processed food and get them eating real food again?

  6. Therese (CRA)


    Thank you for opening up comments and your response that you sent. While we may not have found much common ground, hopefully our dialogue that you shared on your blog provides additional information for your readers. I want to clarify that our member companies manufacture the ingredient of high fructose corn syrup to fill a demand – consumers need for ready to eat foods. Food and beverage companies use this ingredient to make many things we eat. In some foods, cane sugar may be a preferred caloric sweetener (table top packets, ice tea mixes, whereas in other products they may prefer to use high fructose corn syrup (moisture retention in high fiber breads, reduce tartness in spaghetti sauce, make yogurt palatable with fruit flavors, etc.) or apple/pear/grape juice concentrates (to obtain 100% fruit juice on a specific label).for various reasons, whether they be the functional reasons we have talked about before, shipping and handling benefits, etc.

    As we talked about before, there has always been some type of caloric sweetener that was used in many products. For example, sugar was used in ketchup to help with the tartness of tomatoes. HFCS was also used. When certain ketchup brands removed HFCS, they replaced it with sugar. The bigger picture is that it appears that some sugars have been given a ‘health halo.’ Not by you necessarily, but anyone who recommends one over another type of caloric sweetener. Instead, we should be looking at how to reduce all added sugars, not just focusing on one type.

    The CRA is slowly but surely building awareness around the role of added sugars in the diet, and we do provide resources on our blog which includes guest posts from RD’s that speak to nutrition, moderation, etc. We also facilitated an eBook that has sample meal plans and tips surrounding key health topics.

    Thank you for the questions and dialogue.

    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  7. Therese (CRA)


    There are two formulas, as you may have seen in some of the pieces I provided. HFCS is available in 42 percent and 55 percent fructose. HFCS 55 has the same sweetness as sucrose (table sugar), and the HFCS used in breads, jams and yogurt is 42% fructose – actually less fructose than what’s found in sucrose, and less sweet than sucrose.

    Regarding the study in your comment, prior to the independent review noted below, expert Michael Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Science in Public Interest expressed doubt when he noted in a statement on the USC study, saying “Because the new analyses seem so improbable, confirmatory studies using the best analytical method need to be done before the alarm bells ring too loudly.” (October 27, 2010,,…/201010272.html)

    You can also see a piece by NPR on this at

    If you or your readers care to take a look, you can check out an independent review of the fructose content of HFCS-55, which confirmed that production of high-fructose corn syrup adheres to tightly calibrated industry standards for its sugar content, both fructose and glucose. Allegations made in the USC study claiming that the fructose content exceeds normal averages were disproven in this review.

    To read the independent review, see

    The International Society of Beverage Technologists also commissioned an independent scientific review. See

    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  8. Therese (CRA)


    Thank you for commenting. I am glad that you found our discussion interesting, and hopefully helpful.

    Regarding studies, you can see all of the peer-reviewed research that link to the actual journals at

    Concerning “formulas,” all caloric sweeteners are basically made up of two components, fructose and glucose (See here: Sharing the message of moderation and a balanced lifestyle is a key component of our educational outreach.

    I hope I have answered your question.

    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  9. Therese (CRA)


    Not sure what happen with that link, but you can try this one to see the sweetener fructose/glucose chart.


  10. Nancy


    Thank you for your responses and willingness to engage in dialogue. I completely agree with your statement that “we should be looking at how to reduce all added sugars, not just focusing on one type.” I must disagree with your “message of moderation and balanced lifestyle.” This sounds much like Big Food/Big Beverage’s message of “personal responsibility.” Consumers are consuming much more sugar (including HFCS) and calories in general not because they are unable to moderate their intake or balance their lifestyle. Rather, I see four different things going on that relate specifically to food industry practices:

    1) Processed foods are heavily and cleverly marketed to consumers — including young children, causing them to develop a preference (yes, marketing works!) Let’s face it, you can’t walk down the street without seeing some kind of processed food or fast food restaurant marketing cue — sign, billboard, clothing with food logos, vending machine, etc.
    2) Portion sizes have increased steadily, which of course, increases caloric intake. Look at soda, for example. A regular sized soda used to be 8 oz. Now the smallest size you can often purchase is a 20 oz.
    3) Processed foods, including most foods that contain the sweetener HFCS, taste good. Savvy food scientists have learned how to combine all the flavors, tastes and textures that make consumers want to come back for more. And more and more and more.
    4) A chicken or egg question: Was it really consumers who demanded the creation of on-the-go processed foods? Or was that a creation of the food industry that has changed the eating habits (and certainly not for the better) of an entire nation?

    As you can tell, I tend to see consumers being manipulated by food and beverage industry marketing versus the other way around.

    Advocates would like to see the food industry engage in a serious campaign to eliminate the amount of added sugars in the American diet. Humans lived for centuries without adding sugar to a majority of our food and drink. Now that we’ve learned that the impact of added sugars to so much of our food supply is detrimental (American Heart Association study), we’d like to see Big Food/Beverage step up to the plate and become part of the solution to this problem. Change won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. But we can’t keep going in the direction we have been pointed as our population is getting larger and sicker.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts. And I do appreciate your posts!


  11. Carrie

    Hi Jane & Therese,

    Firstly I’d like to thank you for having this open dialogue; very interesting. I also want to thank you for citing all of the scientific case studies about HFCS, sugar, fructose & sucrose, etc. They are all very interesting as well.

    So I would like to present you with a very unscientific study; my own.

    First a little background info…
    I am 29, female, mother of 2 girls (ages nearly 7 & 4), and I’ve been living in Switzerland for a little over a year and a half. I used to live in America and we are moving back to the Washington DC area in August.

    I’ve always been a pretty normal weight, take care of myself & exercise. But I do LOVE sweets; I probably have the biggest sweet tooth of the family. I eat lots of yogurts with added sugar & fruits (and all the fat, I don’t do low fat in this house!), chocolates, cookies, juice, cheese, yogurt drinks, confitures (that’s probably called jam/jelly to you) and I put it all on crepes or nice thick pieces of bread with lots of yogurt-butter. Hey, I’m in Switzerland where the dairy flows like rivers. I also eat pretty normal amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables & meats; don’t worry.

    So I ate a lot of these same foods when we lived in the states, pretty much the same diet and I did pretty much the same amount of exercising. Probably even more so a few years ago than now because it was just after having 2 kids and I wanted the baby belly gone!

    What I noticed about all these foods I’m eating here is that there is a lot of information on the packaging and they don’t hide the percentages of different ingredients in products. The country where it’s derived or even locality sometimes is printed along with where it is assembled/processed in almost every case. Some meats here are very expensive (factory farming is mostly frowned upon) and there also seems to be a huge concern about making sure products are Fair Trade. But those are 2 entirely different organizations to address about American products.

    Back to my unscientific study: I weighed about 130 pounds (at 5’6″ that’s pretty acceptable I think) when we left the US in Aug. ’09. I have since then lost about 10 pounds slowly and gradually, and for some reason, I feel better/stronger, get sick less often, my blood pressure is lower, I don’t get migraines as often, don’t get constipated as often, (sorry I had to go there, but this is science right?) and in general I feel much smarter & happier.

    I also live right under the flightpath of the Geneva airport in a small 2 bedroom apartment, alongside a major/noisy road, with the big train line/station of our village just a 3 min. walk away. So you can’t say I’m breathing all that much better air. I’m actually looking forward to going back to our quieter living quarters in the US with our family; but unfortunately, that’s the only reason I’m happy about it.

    My question is about my metabolism. Now that my body has detoxed all the highly processed ‘corn sugar’, but I’m still eating fructose/sucrose & animal/dairy fats (probably more than ever & chocolat) then why did I lose that much weight?

    Imagine if someone of a BMI a bit higher than mine prescribed to this diet and did a normal or same amount of exercise or sedation? They’d probably lose an even higher proportion of weight than I did. Why, because my ‘unscientific’ case study shows that HFCS slows down a ‘human’ metabolism much more than natural sugars or fructose/sucrose derived from sugar.

    I can send you before & after pictures to prove it. Even my family back home tells me there’s a difference in how I look and I wasn’t overweight at all before we left the US. So maybe HFCS isn’t just making us fat, but making Americans just plain unhealthy too?

    I want to thank you again for the dialogue, and thank you also if you’ve taken the time to read this long boring letter. Please feel free to use my experience as an example (it’s not copyrighted like Monsanto corn/soy -I won’t come after you with a lawsuit for feeding people’s need for knowledge). If you have any further questions about me unintentionally using myself as a lab rat for effectively calculating the differences between the ‘healthy’ American diet vs. a ‘healthy’ European diet, contact me via email.


  12. Jenn Lafleur

    Weight gain aside, when my Canadian husband moved to Texas right before we married, he started having terrible abdominal pains much of the time, but we couldn’t figure out why. Over a year later, I read that HFCS might cause abdominal distress, so I started looking at ingredients. We don’t consume many processed foods, but I found the soda he was drinking contained HFCS. He switched to a brand with cane sugar and never had a problem again. The soda he drank in Canada also contained real cane sugar. If sugar is sugar, it shouldn’t matter what kind of sugar was in his soda, but it sure did. I hope the HFCS didn’t do any permanent damage that could show up later in his life.

  13. chuck bass

    One fact that hasn’t been mentioned is that HFCS itself is highly processed. It’s production involves several steps and includes adding enzymes to change the chemical composition. It is a well accepted fact that whole foods with little to no processing are healthier than foods that have undergone extensive processing. HFCS belongs to the latter group.

    Also, HFCS is made from bioengineered corn- the safety of GM foods is still inconclusive. On top of the safety concerns of the genetic manipulation, the GM corn is resistant to Roundup, a herbicide, allowing the farmers to douse the area that the corn grows in with copious amounts of it without killing the plant. Although the plant survives, it absorbs a lot of the Roundup which is then present in the corn kernels, and is consequently in the products that it is processed into, including HFCS.

    Finally, Therese and her coworkers at the Corn Refiners Association have an inherent conflict of interest. Their job is to convince people that the products that they produce are healthy and desireable. It is NOT to tell the truth. I also would not be surprised to learn that some of the studies that they tout about HFCS’s harmlessness are funded by Big Corn- which if true is another conflict. Bottom line, the CRA and their employees have PR as their agenda, and it seems to me that Jane Bills is just after the truth. That alone makes me inclined to trust what she says more.

  14. Nancy (@nyshepa)

    Below I’ve pasted Michael Jacobson’s entire statement from October 27, 2010. He’s no fan of HFCS or sugar:

    Is Soda Higher in Fructose Than Previously Thought?
    Statement of CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson

    October 27, 2010

    If the findings of new laboratory analysis of popular soft drinks can be replicated, the soda industry will have a lot of explaining to do. The study, fittingly published in the journal Obesity, claims that up to 65 percent of the sugars in Coca-Cola and Pepsi are fructose. That’s surprising, because the soda industry has always claimed that the high-fructose corn syrup used in soda is only 55 percent fructose—a percentage much closer to that of table sugar, or sucrose, which is 50 percent fructose.

    Because the new analyses seem so improbable, confirmatory studies using the best analytical method need to be done before the alarm bells ring too loudly.

    Most scientists haven’t been willing to say that high-fructose corn syrup is some kind of nutritional boogeyman that is much worse than ordinary sugar because both are roughly half fructose and half glucose. If Coke and Pepsi actually contained much higher levels of fructose, that would make those and other HFCS-sweetened drinks even more harmful than previously thought since fructose appears to be especially conducive to weight gain.

    But no one should think that they’d be doing themselves a huge favor by switching to soft drinks made with sugar. Regardless of the percentage of fructose to glucose, the main problem with sugars is that they are an empty source of calories. Even worse, consumed in liquid form, those calories don’t provide the same kind of satiety solid foods do. As a result, all sugary soft drinks promote weight gain, obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and other serious health problems.

  15. Therese (CRA)


    First, I congratulate you on your weight loss!

    But please keep in mind that not consuming HFCS because of where you live, or removing HFCS is not like removing a type of food, or changing your diet; it is one ingredient amongst many in a given product.

    As far as your particular situation goes, we are not familiar with your exact circumstance, and cannot provide medical advice; that’s of course for a physician

    As you can see from this graph on the Washington Post’s website, obesity is rising worldwide, not just in the US. In fact obesity is rising in countries where they do not use high fructose corn syrup and mainly use sucrose (table sugar). The World Health Organization has also noted that “Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980.” Thus, it is not possible to identify one ingredient that is primarily responsible for weight gain or obesity.

    As you may know, high fructose corn syrup is made from both wheat and corn in the European Union and is known as isoglucose on the label, although the primary caloric sweetener consumed in the EU comes from sugar.

    All the best,

    Therese, Corn Refiners Association

  16. andrea

    Corn/cane/beets….why add sugar period. Why is there sugar in yogurt, totally unnecessary. Get people hooked on the sweet and keep feeding it to them. I don’t care how it is processed, its not needed. Must be a money maker and to hell with the health of the people. How about some corporate responsibility.

  17. ANM

    I can’t decide whether I am impressed or appalled by the restraint shown here. I think it’s clear that Therese Pompa entered the discussion in bad faith, she did not address the very real concerns raised by the author of this wonderful blog, and some of her responses are little more than thinly-veiled condescension. Her syrupy-sweet “I’m a mom!” intro was almost as stomach-turning as the HFCS filth she peddles.

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