Corporate Ethics, Evidence, and Fructose

Evidence seems to be mounting that not all sugars are created equal.

See this story by Leslie Beck, writing for the Globe & Mail: Fructose can trigger cancer cells to grow faster, study finds

It’s been blamed for a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides (blood fats), metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.

Now, a study published last week in the journal Cancer Research adds to the growing controversy over the potential health risks of fructose, a form of sugar added to thousands of foods and soft drinks.

According to researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, the sweetener triggers pancreatic cancer cells to grow more quickly….

I’m not entirely convinced yet (as a non-expert) that the health difference between fructose and sucrose is critical. After all, the science reported here is pretty preliminary. Perhaps more importantly, both fructose and sucrose are pretty bad for you, so it may be a matter of splitting hairs to worry about which is worse. The point is you should eat less of both. (See my blog entry about this from last year: Ah Sugar Sugar!)

But as the debate goes on (and as evidence mounts) it’s worth considering at what point there is sufficient evidence for the dangers of an ingredient (e.g., fructose) to start talking about an obligation on the part of food packagers to avoid using it.

And, in a world in which farm subsidies play an important role in how much of which crops get produced, it’s also worth asking at what point governments have a moral obligation to shift subsidy patterns to make better ingredients cheaper.

(For an example of a difference that food packagers shouldn’t care about, see this blog entry of mine, about “genetically modified” sugar: Sugar is Sugar.)

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
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