FDA Rejects Petition to Change Name of High Fructose Corn Syrup

Corn refiners suffered a defeat yesterday as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected an industry petition to rename high-fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” on nutritional labels.

The Corn Refiners Association (CRA), which includes major corn refiners such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, sought the name change in a 2010 petition to the FDA as part of an effort to reverse years of controversy and negative publicity about the health effects of the sweetener.  However, the FDA ultimately decided that “corn sugar” does not “accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties” and that the name change could “pose a public health concern.”

In its petition, the CRA argued that high-fructose corn syrup – a sweetener that has been widely used in processed foods and beverages since the 1970s – is a form of sugar with the same nutritional value as the everyday white sugar that most consumers are familiar with. Along with the petition, the CRA has been running a multi-million dollar marketing and public relations campaign using the term “corn sugar” in an attempt to improve the image of high-fructose corn syrup.

However, the FDA, which reviewed the CRA’s petition for nearly 20 months, stated that consumers would be confused if high fructose corn syrup was to be renamed “corn sugar,” particularly as the agency defines sugar as “a solid, dried and crystallized food,” and describes syrup as a “liquid food.” The FDA called its approach “consistent with the common understanding of sugar and syrup as referenced in a dictionary.” The FDA also noted that “corn sugar” is already a term used for a solid corn sweetener called dextrose and that a name change for high-fructose corn syrup could mislead and affect individuals with fructose intolerance.

The ruling was met with approval from the Sugar Association, which has been highly critical of the name change effort and filed a lawsuit against the CRA last year claiming that its public relations and marketing campaign is misleading to consumers.

“The FDA’s ruling represents a victory for American consumers,” said Dan Callister, an attorney working with the Sugar Association. “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 brief statement issued on Wednesday, the CRA said that the ruling was decided on “narrow, technical grounds” and 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.”