FDA Tells Industry HFCS ≠ Sugar

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup battles a negative public image.

Sorry, recently said the Food and Drug Administration to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) but “high fructose corn syrup” is just not “corn sugar.” The FDA issued its ruling in response to a citizen petition filed by CRA on September 14, 2010 and supplemented on July 29, 2011, which asked for permission to use the term “corn sugar” as an alternative to high fructose corn syrup or HFCS.

In its petition, CRA cited studies which purported to show consumer confusion with the term “high fructose corn syrup” and its characteristics. The group also claimed that “corn sugar” and HFCS are supposedly “equivalent by every parameter of relevance to consumers.” The FDA was urged to embrace the group’s position that “corn sugar”, as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS, would “fully” satisfy the legal criteria for what constitutes common or usual names.  After all, argued CRA, the term “accurately reflects the source of the food (corn), identifies the basic nature of the food (a sugar), and discloses the food’s function (a sweetener).”

The FDA, however, said that the name change is not happening. For starters, under the FDA rules, sugar is “solid, dried, and crystallized food” whereas “syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food.” As such, said the FDA, “using the term ‘sugar’ would not be consistent with the general principles governing common or usual names under” the regulations.

The agency’s response to the industry group not only firmly reminded everyone of the technical definition behind the terms, but also brought out points little mentioned in this sensationalized story which was designed as a clever media campaign to rehabilitate the overall unhealthy HFCS image in the eyes of the public.

Since the term “corn sugar” was already taken as an alternative name for dextrose monohydrate the corn refiners were also asking the FDA to eliminate such usage. The group claimed that consumers do not “commonly associate the term ‘corn sugar’ with dextrose.” But the agency was not persuaded, stating that CRA’s arguments fail to support the agency’s long standing regulations on this issue and the three decades of “corn sugar” being used to describe dextrose.

Then there was also a matter of health. “Corn sugar” is allowed as a food ingredient for individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption and such individuals are advised to avoid ingredients that contain fructose. So, in fact, changing the name for HFCS to “corn sugar” would put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern, since they associate “corn sugar” with an acceptable ingredient for their health.

We can all breathe easier now that the FDA took a firm stand to protect the sugar label from aggression by HFCS makers. If only the FDA would take the “radical” step of labeling GMOs and side with consumer interests over large biotech seed makers…

Speaking of GMO labeling, in response to the FDA’s denial, CRA issued a press statement in which the group reiterated its position that consumers remain confused about HFCS and argued that “[c]onsumers have the right to know what is in their foods and beverages in simple, clear language that enables them to make well-informed dietary decisions.” Interestingly, this is nearly the same language that GMO labeling advocates and consumers raise in support of GMO labeling because consumers have the right to know what’s in their foods and beverages in simple, clear language that enables them to make well-informed dietary decisions.  Does Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, two of the largest food conglomerates in CRA, see the cognitive dissonance in their statement?