Does the Sugar Quota make you Fat?

I don’t know whether High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) acts more like fat than does sugar (compare here and here) but it’s worthwhile pointing out that HFCS is a child of the sugar quota.  The import quotas raise the US price of sugar well above the world price (~24 cents per pound compared to ~9 cents per pound) and encourage consumption of HFCS.  Reflecting this fact, the main defenders of the sugar quota are no longer Florida sugar growers but rather mid-West corn growers.


ADM would be the poster boy for midwestern sugar quota lobbyists. If you're determined you can avoid most of the HFCS (just not drinking soda helps a lot), which I highly recommend.

You can also buy a sugar-sweetened Coke or Pepsi if you buy it imported from Mexico.

We'll it's also clear that corn subsidies are to blame as much or more than sugar quotas. The USDA publishes tables of spot sugar and HFCS prices. Despite the price support from the sugar quota, pound-for-pound, the price for corn syrup is below the world price of sugar. (Prices have increased recently: July World Raw sugar was $.1661/lb, US raw sugar was $.2244/lb, and HFCS was $.1620/lb.)

Ultimately, that's why HFCS makes people fat; it's really, really cheap and demand curves slope down...

Joe writes: "Actually, HFCS is now competitive with sugar, even on the world market."

Do you mean HFCS is "competitive" in the sense that we can manufacture it with fewer resources, or in the sense that its price, after taking into account government subsidies and other bad things, is lower?


I mean that taking into account the advantages over cane sugar in processed food storage, HFCS compares favorably to the price of sugar on the "world market." That's at the current price, which includes the effect of corn subsidies.

I've been told by folks in the food industry that even if the U.S. dropped all barriers to imported sugar, we probably wouldn't go back to using it in soda and snack foods. Whether that would be true in the case that corn subsidies ceased, I do not know.

Putting taste aside, HFCS *is* better for soda, since it is easier to mix and control, compared to sugar. Including subsidies in "competitiveness" is silly, however, since enough subsidy could make an SUV competitive in a yacht race.

Another irony of the Sugar protectionism is that corn is used to produce ethanol for fuel. In Brazil, where neither corn nor sugar are subsidized, sugar is used for ethanol. Sugar may have a comparative advantage there, but those subsidies ensure that corn does here.

See this image from the Economist (

On the price competitiveness of HFCS vs. sugar, I am not sure if you can compare one to the other on weight. Since HFCS contains a lot of water, the price must be even cheaper than sugar to result in an equal amount of "sweetness". Check the USDA to be sure they are using dry-equivalents...

When I spent summers in Jordan with my grandparents I used to think the soda was much better than it was at home. At the time I assumed it was the glass bottles instead of aluminum cans, but I guess the real sugar makes a real difference.

Boylan isn't bad, but Red Rock and Whooppee are better, as far as indie cane-sugar colas go. Sadly, Whooppee seems completely unavailable at the moment and I've been waiting weeks to get a case of Red Rock from

I have to agree with Peter's allergy hypothesis. I once suffered from brutal allergies all spring, all summer, and most of the fall. I became interested in "paleo" dieting through Atkins, Prof. DeVany,, and a few other sites. I switched to a low-carb diet in order to lose weight. What surprised me is that, after a few days, my allergies dried up and did not return. I can run an easy experiment on myself now: eat breakfast cereal in the morning and a sandwich for lunch, and my throat runs all afternoon. Eat eggs and fruit for breakfast and a salad with meat for lunch, and my nasal passages and throat remain clear.

I think it may be more than corn, though, because it can also happen with wheat and rice. I think that I, like the vast majority of humans, am actually allergic to the main source of dietary calories: grains.

And yes, I dropped the 15 pounds I didn't want.

- Josh

Its not just soda, its lots of things. Candy has HFCS. Heinz Ketchup has HFCS. Even some Campbells soups have HFCS.

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