COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Food companies that remove high-fructose corn syrup from their products threaten the jobs of farmers in Ohio, the nation's No. 7 grower of corn, state agriculture leaders say.
Some nutritionists cite the syrup as part of the country's obesity problem, though industry scientists and many dietitians say it is no more fattening than sugar.
Nonetheless, PepsiCo Inc. has removed all high-fructose corn syrup from sports drink Gatorade and replaced it with cane sugar. And ConAgra Foods Inc. said last week it has removed high-fructose corn syrup from its Hunt's brand ketchup.
"Farmers are extremely concerned," said Fred Yoder, whose family farm near Plain City sends 80 percent of its corn directly to a corn-sweetener refinery. "Not only do farmers lose, but the consumer is the biggest loser because food costs could go up 20 to 30 percent if they continue to switch from high-fructose corn syrup."
Ohio produces $2.1 billion worth of corn, according to the state Farm Bureau.
Yoder argues that 1,700 corn-refining employees and 2,500 corn farmers in Ohio stand to lose their jobs if food producers turn their backs on high-fructose corn syrup.
High-fructose corn syrup has been used as a sweetener in a variety of foods ranging from baked goods and soft drinks to cereals since the 1970s. The product not only is less expensive than sugar, but also extends the shelf life of processed foods.
About 58 percent of consumers say they are concerned that high-fructose corn syrup poses a health threat in the foods they eat, according to a study last year by NPD Group Inc., a market research company in Port Washington, N.Y.
Forty-one new soft drinks and energy drinks were introduced last year proclaiming they contained no high-fructose corn syrup, said Mintel International Group, a Chicago-based research group.
So far this year, at least 14 new soft drinks and energy drinks have been put on the market advertising their lack of high-fructose corn syrup, Mintel spokeswoman Christine Coombes said.
John Davis, president of the board of directors for the Ohio Corn Growers Association, said he thinks consumers' fears are based on misconceptions.
"These companies are not basing their decision on scientific facts but on what certain activist groups are telling them about the issue," Davis said. "Five years from now, when you still have the same obesity issue, what are they going to blame it on then?"