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Sugar and corn growers disagree on FDA decision

Sugar and consumer groups have praised the Food and Drug Administration’s decision Wednesday not to allow the term “corn sugar” to be used for high fructose corn syrup, while the Corn Refiners Association, which had petitioned FDA for the change, was critical.
Michael Landa, FDA

Michael Landa
Michael M. Landa, director of the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, wrote Corn Refiners Association President Audrae Erickson that the group’s petition did not provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize “corn sugar” as an alternate common or usual name for high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

“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,” Landa wrote.

He also wrote, “We are not persuaded by the arguments in the petition that consumers do not associate ‘corn sugar’ with dextrose. The term ‘corn sugar’ has been used to describe dextrose for over 30 years.”

The Sugar Association noted that the CRA had filed the petition on Sept. 14, 2010, after launching an advertising and marketing campaign promoting the idea that sugar and HFCS were identical.

Those actions set off more than a year of litigation initiated by U.S. sugar farmers and refiners, who are trying to stop the CRA’s campaign. That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

“The FDA’s ruling represents a victory for American consumers,” said Dan Callister, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “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.”

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, which had urged the FDA to turn down the petition, praised the decision.

“The FDA did the right thing,” said Urvashi Rangan, the director of the Consumer Safety Group at Consumer Reports.

“High fructose corn syrup is not ‘corn sugar,’ Rangan said. “If the name had been changed, it would have given consumers the wrong impression that this product is ‘natural.’ This is a corn starch that has to be chemically processed. The term ‘corn sugar’ simply doesn't reflect the chemical changes that take place in production. Consumers know the term high-fructose corn syrup, and they should be able to easily differentiate among products that use it.”

A Consumer Reports National Survey conducted in July 2007 indicated that a large majority of consumers — 83 percent — did not believe that ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup should be used in products labeled as “natural,” the group noted.

Audrae Erickson, Corn Refiners Association

Audrae Erickson
Erickson said in a statement that the FDA based its denial 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,” Erickson said.

“The fact remains — which FDA did not challenge — that the vast majority of American consumers are confused about HFCS,” the corn refiners group added.

“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.”