Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Letter From The Editor: Sugar


Alcohol and tobacco have both been the subject of a social-political war in the United States.  We went from one extreme to another on the spectrum of alcohol regulation, even doing time with prohibition.

Except for my memories of elections over “dry” versus “wet” counties in the Midwest, most of that had worked itself out, reaching the current stalemate, before I came along.

The tobacco war is a little more recent. I never smoked cigarettes, which made me more of an observer than a participant in how it all came down.

Smoking cigarettes is a nasty, dirty, dangerous habit, but I’ve always been troubled by how easily we the majority of non-smokers were able to snuff out the smokers.

But ultimately it was the public that drew that line.

Still, whenever I see smokers huddling outside in a smoking ghetto, I feel a little bit guilty.  Man, we threw them out so easily!   Yes, first we came for the smokers!

And now comes New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ration the sugar intake of soda drinkers by making it illegal to sell drinks larger than 16 ounces.  Just as I do not smoke, I do not do sugary drinks. I’ve never understood “super sizes.”

Yet the idea that government is going to dictate how much of a legal product we can purchase is troubling.   When you take the “lite fascism” road, where does it end?  And, as I’ve said here before, it is more than a little bit icky whenever a government official or scientist/lobbyist starts talking about calorie rationing.

Meanwhile, however, the sugar war is going to be God’s gift to food writers everywhere.   Unlike the alcohol and tobacco wars, which pretty much had pro- and anti- prohibitionist sides, the sugar wars are going to be more multidimensional affairs.

It comes as the sweet-stuff makers are warring among themselves over the names that can be used for syrup and sugar. Lots of smart folks have long made the case that food makers have fattened up our human herd by putting high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in just about everything.

Just as people seemed to become wise to that, along came the Corn Refiners Association with a bold plan to just rename HFSC “corn sugar” and make things right with the world.

The Sugar Association took their corn brethren to court for using “corn sugar” in advertising and last week FDA said syrup is not sugar. It took FDA about 20 months of pondering over a sugar bowl to conclude that sugar is a crystallized solid and corn syrup is a liquid.

This is not going to end the industry warring going on in the background. Neither the Corn Refiners Association, representing the likes of Archer Daniels Midland, nor the Sugar Association, representing cane and beet growers, are used to losing.

Whether Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to dictate soda sizes will bring syrup and sugar together to fight a common foe, I do not know.   Previous schemes to stop people from swallowing so much sweetened soda revolved around proposals to tax it.

Soda taxes pretty much failed because people suspected government just wanted what it always wants–more money, and really did not care a wit about your fat kid.

Give the Big Apple credit for coming up with a new scheme with lots of parts that is centered only on cutting the intake of sugary soda. It’s going be expensive to enforce, but its motives are clear, and maybe even pure.

Could it work?  Maybe. California’s five-year campaign to take sugary soda out of public schools is said to have cut the intake of the average Golden State student by 160 calories (there we go again) per day when compared to other states.

One thing is for certain: the war on sugar is going to come in many flavors and take on many tactics. My guess is that ultimately it will be the common sense of the American people that draws the line. We found that much out in the short-lived school bake sale ban in Massachusetts.

Finally, let me leave you with a troubling thought. From about 50,000 feet, all sides in this look about the same. The syrup and sugar businesses are trying to pour as much of their products into food as possible, as I said, to fatten up the herd.

Would-be health czars like Bloomberg want to use the police powers of government to take it away, because they say they care about the obesity epidemic and it’s worked with those nasty smokers.

Both camps seem to not need or care what the public thinks, or what might cause them to voluntarily change their behavior. For business and government, we are all just part of the herd.

Until we stampede.

© Food Safety News
  • “Yet the idea that government is going to dictate how much of a legal product we can purchase is troubling.”
    But that’s not what Bloomberg has called for, is it?
    People can buy as much sugar filled soda as they want. However, certain venues cannot offer containers of soda over a certain size. They can offer to sell multiple containers at a time. They can even offer to provide free refills in the containers. What they can’t do–if the Bloomberg rule goes into effect–is offer larger containers for sugar filled pop.
    That is a vastly different thing than “government is dictating how much of a legal product we can purchase”.
    We cannot have effective discussions if the media is irresponsible in its reporting.

  • Felix

    Jon Stewart said it best when he observed Bloomberg’s nanny-state soda ban “has it all…the government over-reach we all love and the probable lack of results we all expect”.
    Congrats to Nanny Bloomberg, politician extraordinaire! (Note to voters: throw the bum out).

  • Jon Stewart is great. I agree with him most of the time. I don’t agree with him this time, though I thought his coverage of the issue was very funny.
    I look at the forces massed against Bloomberg. I look at the attacks from someone like Rick Berman and that fakery he calls “Consumer Freedom”. I think to myself: if Berman is against this, I need to take a closer look. Because Berman is _never_ on the side of angels.
    People need to start thinking. Not reacting, thinking. If they did, they’d see that not every issue is obvious.

  • Fern

    While we’re at it — LETS count the health costs, that like tobacco — we’re ALL paying for. Instead of a ban I’m all for big gulp taxes and skull-and-crossbones warning labels (a la tobacco products) myself….

  • Ted

    Geez Shelly, what do you have against freedom? You must be assuming your dreamed-of authoritarian food police state will install you somewhere near the top where intrusive, oppressive nanny state rules won’t apply to you, only to me and the rest of the hopeless helpless rabble? You must anticipate you will enjoy political dog-fighting better than the freedom you now have and obviously do not appreciate. Be careful what you wish for. In the meantime ordinary folks will skillfully resist your evil crusade to gradually enslave and punish us for being human (’cause you’re not the first peckerhead to try it, you know).

  • Ted, any time new regulations come up someone comes along and rants about “freedom”. It’s a knee jerk reaction–a toss away complaint that never adds to the discussion. If you had the freedom you say you want, not being able to gulp down 64 ounces of pop in one sitting would be the least of your worries.
    We are surrounded by regulations, made necessary in order for a group of not always like minded people to be able to live together in a thing called “a community”. And before you criticize my use of “community”, no it’s not short for Communism.
    Bloomberg’s new drink cup rule would be applied to businesses, not people. The only real impact of this rule would be on the large corporate soft drink and fast food businesses that spend most of their waking time trying to figure out how you can be even more unhealthy than you are, while they reap obscene profits for making you so.
    If you want to down 64 ounces of pop at a time, do feel free to grab multiple cups. You’ll probably have an easier time handling the cups than the monster you’re used to lugging around. Of course, you’ll no longer be able to easily hide the fact that you’re a greedy pig to consume so much pop at one sitting–but freedom means being able to ignore what people think of you, I guess.
    You know what’s real freedom? Having access to information to know when people like Rick Berman and companies like Coca Cola are playing me for an idiot with their “nanny” ads. Now, that’s real freedom–not the fakery that Berman peddles.

  • Frances K.

    Shelly must be right, freedom is so overrated. I mean, who wouldn’t want Mayor Bloomberg and his meddling flunkies making your decisions for you? It is such a load off, isn’t it? Freedom to choose is such an unnecessary burden.

  • jswholesome

    Back to the blame game. It’s about time we look in the mirror and have the guts to say “I” take responsibility for myself and my family. It would be a shock for me to see someone in government, business or education come out and offend the general public by suggesting we are to blame for allowing our selves and our children to become obese (substitute any other vice you see fit). I, for one, will stand up be counted as not needing the government to make these decisions for me. What about YOU.

  • Free Choice Free Speech Free Will

    “Freedom…is a toss away complaint that never adds to the discussion”
    No, I think freedom is the discussion. And I acknowledge Shelly’s freedom to spin utter nonsense into drab urban folklore yarn with which to weave her grim tapestry of bigoted deceit. A toss away tapestry or maybe a flush away one. The sky has not fallen on freedom in America quite yet.

  • Dude Love

    I personally can’t wait to be told what to drink or eat. I must be behind the times because wasn’t fat killing us all? Now it’s sugar, to be certain? Tobacco is easy because there is a direct link between smoking and cancer. Does this mean if I drink Coke, I’ll immediately get fat? Who doesn’t want a bunch of old, out-of-touch people in power telling us what we can and can’t do, like we are some silly children who can’t think for ourselves. Personally I can’t wait for our mandatory exerecise hour. I mean let’s stop pussyfooting around and instead of banning food deemed bad to our heath, force us to get our exercise. It’d likely weed out those who have heart problems too! Yeeeehaw, Land of the Free indeed!

  • Ted

    No no Dude, foodies do NOT advocate for exercise. Foodies believe physical activity has no impact on obesity, not personal responsibility either — only food availability and choices matter in their biased estimation (what d’ya wanna bet these power hungry foodies baaastids are, themselves, fat lazy schlubs who hate to get out and move around?). The official foodie talking points are limited to bashing low income people and trashing food producers. Nothing constructive at all in the agenda, just a megaload of cranky bullsh!t and obfuscating gunsmoke. All a sneaking slithering attempt to worm their way into power over all of us. Then God help us all!