In November 2010, the Corn Refiners Association (“CRA”) petitioned the FDA to allow “corn sugar” as an alternate ingredient name for high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”). The corn industry wanted to escape an increasingly negative impression of HFCS by using a more wholesome and “less complicated” name for the ingredient. This petition was strongly opposed — not surprisingly — by the sugar industry, which went so far as to sue the CRA in federal court for ads which stated, “Whether its corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference.”
On May 30, 2012, the FDA issued its Response which squarely rejected the CRA’s petition. First, the “FDA’s regulatory approach for the nomenclature of sugar and syrups is that sugar is a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food…. FDA’s approach is consistent with the common understanding of sugar and syrup as referenced in a dictionary.” Accordingly, “use of the term ‘sugar’ to describe HFCS, a product that is a syrup, would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.”
Second, “FDA’s longstanding regulations … describe and define corn sugar as ‘dextrose'” and the petition does not support using “corn sugar” as “an alternative name for a sweetener that is different from dextrose.”
Finally, “corn sugar” has “been known to be an allowed ingredient for individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance” and “changing the name for HFCS to “corn sugar” could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern.”
Accordingly, the CRA’s petition didn’t “provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize ‘corn sugar’ as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS.”
The FDA’s ruling will certainly be fodder for the sugar association’s efforts to combat the CFR’s marketing campaign. On the other hand, the CFR has already stated that the FDA’s denial was based “on narrow, technical grounds” and “[t]hey 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.” Sounds like this bitter, PR battle will continue for some time. At this time, however, the Sugar industry has the upper hand.