FDA Denies Petition to Rename High-Fructose Corn Syrup

'Corn Sugar' Not an Acceptable Alternate Name, Agency Finds

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The Food and Drug Administration has denied the Corn Refiners Association's petition to rename high-fructose corn syrup "corn sugar."

The ruling, issued after 20 months of review, states that the use of the term "corn sugar" would not "accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties." The FDA also said that renaming HFCS as "corn sugar" could pose a "public-health concern."

Corn sugar, defined as dextrose, is an allowed ingredient for individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption, while HFCS is not, explained Michael Landa, the FDA's director-center for food safety and applied nutrition, in a letter to CRA President Audrae Erickson. Renaming HFCS could lead to confusion and put those individuals at risk.

"We are not persuaded by the arguments in the petition that consumers do not associate 'corn sugar' with dextrose," the letter said. "The term 'corn sugar' has been used to describe dextrose for over 30 years. The Select Committee on GRAS Substances used the term 'corn sugar' to describe dextrose as early as 1976."

Corn Refiners Association ad
Corn Refiners Association ad

The CRA, backed by food giants such as Archer Daniels-Midland, argued that consumers were confused by the name "high fructose corn syrup." Some consumers incorrectly believe that HFCS is significantly higher in calories, fructose and sweetness than sugar, the group said in its petition, filed in September 2010.

The group even took to the airwaves, running an ad campaign by Omnicom's DDB, Chicago, that included TV spots featuring parents walking through cornfields declaring that whether corn sugar or cane sugar, "your body can't tell the difference."

"The simpler the message, the easier to remember," Ms. Erickson told Ad Age at the time. "Sugar is sugar."

The debate even became part of pop culture, with "Saturday Night Live" spoofing the ads last year in a skit featuring two moms fighting over the issue. "SNL" comes down on the sugar side, with the kicker showing the corn supporter's kid, who is , um, a little bit too big for her age.

The campaign set off more than a year of litigation initiated by U.S. sugar farmers and refiners, who have tried to stop the CRA's campaign.

"The FDA's ruling represents a victory for American consumers," said Dan Callister, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the continuing litigation, in a statement. "It reaffirms what most consumer advocates, health experts and policy officials have been saying all along: Only sugar is sugar. HFCS is not sugar. The next step is for the federal court to end the CRA's misleading propaganda campaign."

Ms. Erickson said in a statement the petition was denied on "narrow, technical grounds" and the FDA did not question the group's position that HFCS is a form of sugar and nutritionally the same as other sugars.

"The fact remains -- which FDA did not challenge -- that the vast majority of American consumers are confused about HFCS," Ms. Erickson said. "Consumers 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. In light of the FDA's technical decision, it is important to note that the agency continues to consider HFCS as a form of added sugar, and requires that it be identified to consumers in the category of sugars on the Nutrition Fact Panel on foods and beverages."

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