High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) cannot be called “corn sugar,” the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined.
A citizen’s petition filed with FDA by the Washington D.C. Corn Refiners Association (CRA) on Sept. 14, 2010 and supplemented on July 29, 2011 requested the name change.
But in a letter Wednesday, FDA’s Michael M. Landa, director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, turned down the name change request and rejected all three arguments made by the corn processors in their petition.
Specifically, Landa said calling HFCS “sugar” when the product is syrup would not be an accurate way to identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.
The denial letter went to Ms. Audrae Erickson, CRA president, who was told that the petition “does not provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize ‘corn sugar’ as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS.”
Since filing the petition for the name change, CRA embarked on a national campaign to introduce the “corn sugar” name. That quickly brought on litigation by the Sugar Association, representing traditional sugar growers. That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
Not surprisingly, the Sugar Association hailed the FDA decision.
“The FDA’s ruling represents a victory for American consumers,” said Dan Callister, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation. “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.”
In a statement, Erickson said FDA denied the petition on narrow technical grounds.
“They did not address or question the overwhelming scientific evidence that high fructose corn syrup is a form of sugar and is nutritionally the same as other sugars,” she said.
CRA represents what some call “Big Corn,” including giants like Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc.
In its petition, CRA argued HFCS was confusing for consumers, causing them to think the substance is higher in calories, fructose and sweetness than sugar. It said the source of the food (corn) and its basic nature (sugar), as well as its function as a sweetener would be conveyed by the name change.
FDA disagreed, saying its current approach is consistent with the common understanding of what’s a sugar and what’s a syrup.
Landa also suggested changing FDA’s longstanding regulations, calling “dextrose” a “corn sugar” could cause confusion and even cause a public health threat.
“Moreover, “corn sugar” has been known to be an allowed ingredient for individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption, who have been advised to avoid ingredients that contain fructose,” Landa said. “Because such individuals have associated ‘corn sugar’ to be an acceptable ingredient to their health when ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is not, changing the name for HFCS to ‘corn sugar’ could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern.”