So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?
LOSE: High Fructose Corn Syrup in soda... Liars, liars, pants on fires
Remember how HFCS is supposed to be virtually identical to regular cane sugar? Well, it's possible that the HFCS in soda pop is actually sweeter than advertised, making it not identical to regular sugar.
A recent study suggests that the HFCS added to soda actually has upwards of 30% more fructose than previously thought. The NPR report acknowledges that the study is controversial, and people on both sides are not totally convinced yet. They even quote Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina (author of The World is Fat) admitting, "We have no real indication that the science of just a small amount [of] more fructose matters."
But then, blamo! Here's Marion Nestle on the study:
The metabolic problems that result from sugar intake are mostly due to the fructose content. Less is better for health. More is better for the soft drink industry, however. Fructose is sweeter than either glucose or sucrose, and sweet is what sells sodas.
At most, HFCS is supposed to be 55% fructose, as compared to the 50% in table sugar. Most foods and drinks are supposed to be using HFCS that is 42% fructose. A percentage of 55 is not much different biologically than 50, which is why the assumption has been that there is no biologically meaningful difference between HFCS and table sugar. This study, if confirmed, means that this supposition may need some rethinking.In fact, analysis of the study has produced a number of possible issues in the methodology, which you can read about at Nestle's blog, if you care. But the study does raise some interesting questions, and needs to be replicated more responsibly.
If it is found that soda companies are commonly using HFCS that is 60% fructose and calling it table sugar, there are some major legal issues to address, as well as the public health concern. Among them, violations of federal law against food adulteration, false and misleading food labeling, and false and misleading advertising.
What I always find the most interesting in these situations, is the industry's response. In this case, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association says via press release,
"Consumers should know that fructose is safe... Fructose is commonly found in many fruits and vegetables, as well as honey, maple syrup, processed sugars, and high fructose corn syrup or corn sugar."Uh, ok. We know.... Wait, corn sugar? Yes. The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the FDA for the right to change the name of HFCS to "corn sugar."
This has nothing to do with all the bad press HFCS has gotten in the last few years, right?
WIN: US Justice Department says you can't patent a "naturally occurring" human gene
This isn't exactly breaking news, but I thought I'd spread the word. Marion Nestle talked about this on her blog last week and points to the New York Times articles that highlighted a newly released friend-of-the-court brief outlining the issue.
The practice of isolating and patenting human genes is fairly common, but became a contentious issue when Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation patented two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, that are linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Owning the patent to these two genes has enabled Myriad to charge $3,000 for a test that detects genetic variations associated with a high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. The patents prevent other companies from developing similar tests which would drive down the price.
To compare, the Times reports that it costs at least $10,000 to get a personal genome sequence, but that the cost is expected to fall to around $1,000 in a few years. Myriad's outrageous price to test for just two genes simply seems greedy and unethical.
So exploiting the very real health fears of women is what capitalism is all about, right? Kevin E. Noonan, a patent lawyer in Chicago who represents biotech companies like Myriad, put down his sippy cup long enough to complain to the Times:
“It’s dumb,” Mr. Noonan said of the government’s brief. “It shows a singular ignorance of the technology and the law at the same time.”Attorney Noonan also opined that
the government’s stance would endanger innovation because the same philosophy against patenting products isolated from nature might be extended to protein-based drugs and antibiotics.Forgive me, but it's these bullshit ideas about "capitalism" that created the stupid system we've got today. Innovation and discovery existed looooooooooonngg before the United States was around letting everyone patent every g.d. picture their preschooler drew in class. If the only goal of innovation is to make a buck, then yes, this Justice Department ruling is the pits. Who's going to want to discover anything if they can't get all the credit, prestige and cash?
However, innovation is also driven by the desire to further the progress of humanity... you know, curing diseases and all that jazz. Which is sure to continue indefinitely, because we're naturally curious and we also kinda like it here. It's nice. Sunsets are pretty. Wine is good. Cheese is tasty.
So, please stop worrying about biotech companies and their shareholders. They will be fine. Or they will go bankrupt and other, more worthwhile enterprises will arise in their wake.