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The sugar industry has been a significant part of Florida’s proud history since before the American Revolution.

Nearly 250 years later, the sugar industry now contributes $3.2 billion in economic activity and supports nearly 12,500 jobs in the Sunshine State.

Sugar farmers are committed to keeping this proud tradition alive for many more generations, and that means protecting their most vital assets: the land and the brand of all natural sugar (sucrose). Farmers have reduced the use of chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides, resulting in cleaner water and healthier soil. The industry has also contributed more than $200 million for Everglades restoration.

Unfortunately, for Florida and all sugar farmers, industrial users of sugar and, most important, consumers, this all-natural product is being scapegoated for the rise in obesity and other diseases. These misguided efforts to target sugar are simply not justified.

Here is the reality: United States Department of Agriculture data plainly states American per-capita consumption of real sugar is lower now than it was 40 years ago by 34 percent.

During this time, high-fructose corn syrup has replaced sugar in thousands of products. This is particularly true in sweetened beverages — often inaccurately called “sugary” or “sugar-sweetened” — which mostly contain no sugar at all. In fact, more than 90 percent of the caloric sweetener supplied for beverages in the U.S. is high-fructose corn syrup.

But sugar isn’t high-fructose corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup certainly isn’t sugar. Sucrose, whether naturally found in a cane stalk or in your morning coffee, is the same: equal parts fructose and glucose bound together at the molecular level by Mother Nature.

By contrast, high-fructose corn syrup is man-made, created only with the use of advanced processes required to manufacture glucose and fructose from corn starch, and they are then mixed in varying proportions, usually with high percentages of free fructose — sometimes as high as 90 percent.

Despite this obvious distinction, and the fact that comprehensive reviews of published science have failed to support a causal link between sugar consumption and lifestyle diseases, the calls based on personal agendas and opinions for regulating sugar continue to waste limited resources in the fight against obesity.

The Sugar Association firmly believes that any regulation should be based on the preponderance of science with consumer education at its core. This is one of the reasons that we have petitioned the FDA to prohibit the use of the term “sugar” to represent other caloric sweeteners in products that make claims like “less sugar” or “sugar-free.” Needless to say, these claims have been ineffective and proved to mislead consumers on caloric benefits. We have also called for regulations to specify the use of the term “sugar” to refer to only sugar/sucrose and not other caloric sweeteners.

On the other hand, any proposed regulations such as the FDA’s effort to include “added sugars” on the nutrition-facts panel, which do not have a scientific foundation, has the potential to mislead consumers and take us further away from proven interventions.

And so do scare tactics and extreme claims by activists. Those using inflammatory and baseless phrases like “toxic” and “addictive” are often more concerned with a sound bite to sensationalize an article or TV appearance than resolving issues of public health.

Bottom line: Sugar has been used safely by our grandmothers and their grandmothers for centuries. It is a sweetener all consumers can recognize and, when consumed in moderation, has been and should continue to be part of a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

The rise in obesity complex is a global health problem that must be dealt with — but unnecessary and unwarranted regulation of sucrose is not the answer.

Andy Briscoe is president and CEO of the Sugar Association.

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