August 14, 2009

Will Taxing High Fructose Corn Syrup Fight Obesity?

Ralph Loglisci

Ralph Loglisci

Food and Health Policy Writer

Timing could be better considering the latest warnings of sugar shortages and price spikes by U.S. food manufacturers, but at least one public health communications and marketing researcher believes a tax on high fructose corn syrup could help in the fight against America’s obesity epidemic. I caught up with Dr. R. Craig Lefebvre, a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health’s Department of Prevention and Community Health, in Atlanta this week after he took part in a panel discussion at the CDC’s National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media. Dr. Lefebvre suggested that directly taxing consumers who buy sugary drinks or foods would be much more regressive than taxing manufacturers who use high fructose corn syrup. His argument: while producers may want to pass on the higher costs to their customers, market pressures may force them to come up with ways to reduce their dependence on high fructose corn syrup without raising prices. What do you think of Dr. Lefebvre’s proposal?


  1. How does a tax on manufacturing a product work? Are there some other examples of federal taxes that have a similar mechanism?

  2. Posted by Cynthia1770

    Great idea to propose an excise tax on HFCS. But, it will be an uphill battle. The CRA is one powerful lobby. Last year the AMA stated that
    HFCS did not contribute to obesity anymore than sucrose. To tax HFCS , you will need unassailable evidence that HFCS is worse than sucrose. The debate rages on. Is HFCS inherently sinister or are we awash in the stuff since it is so cheap? I think there would be a better chance to tax all caloric
    sodas. This still would impact producers of
    HFCS since all national brands of soda use
    it; however, the tax would be regressive.

  3. I think the problem is more than HFCS. In the end this will end up being a regressive tax mainly affecting the poorer folks who buy cheaper food which usually contains HFCS. Manufacturers won’t start using sugar until the price of HFCS is higher than sugar. With the tariffs that are in place against most foreign sugar right now the HFCS tax would have to be exorbitantly high and then those prices would end up being passed on to the consumer and not to the manufacturer. Like every other mandate the government passes it is the consumer that pays for it and not the manufacturer. A good example of this is seat belts or air bags. When congress required companies to install them in their cars the price of cars went up, it wasn’t a transparent cost to the consumer but the auto industry wasn’t taking a hit for it.

  4. Pingback: Tax on High Fructose Corn Syrup - Politics and Other Controversies - City-Data Forum

  5. Fast food restaurants are at fault for pandering to ‘taste’ as a criteria. An example of this is a fruit salad where the accompanying walnuts have been ‘sugarized’. This defeats the whole purpose of the salad.
    The population needs better education on food choices.

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