By Herb Weisbaum
After 20 months of review, the Food and Drug Administration has denied a petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to use the term “corn sugar” as another name for high-fructose corn syrup.
Corn refiners have argued that people are confused by the term high-fructose corn syrup because they believe it has more calories, fructose and sweetness than sugar. The industry’s petition to the FDA said corn sugar more accurately describes their product because it has the same ratio of fructose and glucose as sugar and is metabolized by the body in the same way.
The agency said it did not find “sufficient grounds” to authorize the name change. In a letter to the president of the Corn Refiners Association, FDA’s Michael Landa says “sugar is a solid, dried, and crystallized food” while syrup is a liquid food. In other words, corn syrup is not solid, so it can’t be called sugar.
Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, released a statement saying the 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 writes. “The fact remains – which FDA did not challenge – that the vast majority of American consumers are confused about HFCS.”
In 2008, the corn refiners launched a multi-million dollar advertising and marketing campaign designed to convince consumers that sugar and HFCS are identical. The message was “sugar is sugar” and the ads encouraged people to learn more at CornSugar.com and SweetSurprise.com.
Related story: Consumer groups sour on 'corn sugar' change
The FDA was not happy with this and asked the refiners to modify statements that used the term corn sugar.
U.S. sugar farmers and refiners responded by filing a lawsuit which is still pending. Dan Callister, an attorney for the Sugar Association, calls the FDA’s ruling a victory for American consumers.
“It reaffirms what most consumer advocates, health experts and policy officials have been saying all along: only sugar is sugar,” he said in a statement. “The next step is for a federal court to end CRA’s misleading propaganda campaign."
Is the wide-spread use of high-fructose corn syrup in all sorts of processed foods to blame for America’s obesity epidemic? Scientists disagree on that.
A 2008 report by the American Medical Association concludes that it is "unlikely" that high-fructose corn syrup contributes more to obesity or other conditions than sucrose.
But a 2011 study cited by the sugar industry from the journal Metabolism concludes that fructose corn syrup leads to "significantly different acute metabolic effects" than plain sugar.