Remember when sugar was bad?
Well, quite often our food manufacturers try and avoid basic sugar by using High-Fructose Corn Syrups (HFCS) instead. The reasons for this are plenty: Fructose is 30% sweeter than regular sugar, and the glucose used in the past had to be kept at a relatively high temperature to prevent crystallisation, which would make your processed food less pleasant. HFCS is "twice as soluble as glucose at low temperatures so a 50% conversion of glucose to fructose provides a stable syrup that is as sweet as a sucrose solution of the same concentration" (Martin Chaplin, London South Bank University, 2004).
Another possible reason for the increased use of HFCS (also called isoglucose) in the EU is that many of our big brands have parent companies based in the United States. HFCS is derived from 'corn' and US growers have received around $40bn in subsidies from the Federal Government since the mid-1990's (NY Times, 2003). HFCS also has a much higher calorific value than most other sweeteners, so one could say that the US government has inadvertantly contributed to their own obesity problems - thanks lobbyists!
It gets worse: during the processing of the syrup in parts of the United States, there have been allegations of 'trace' levels of mercury from the ley, and we know from the Mad Hatter that mercury is not a life-giving health food. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) commissioned research on this and found that one third of products made with HCFS contained mercury, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) very helpfully decided to cancel further research into the issue, like you would of course. You can read the IATP's report here.
In the EU, we're a little more protective, as there are production quotas in places, so somewhat bizarrely, we actually consume more actual sugar than the yanks, although we must remember the power of our lobbyists as well (the sugar people that is). Its worth noting that the mercury scare has only so far been linked with HFCS production in the US, mainly due to use of caustic soda and hydrochloric acid - I'm not a chemist, so perhaps someone else can explain exactly why.
Mercury is not the only issue, studies have shown that HFCS is linked with diabetes, and you can read more from dry journals such as this one.
Eat fruit (that's quite good) or if you want a friendly natural version of HFCS, eat some honey!