FDA Says 'No' to 'Corn Sugar'

Agency denies name change on grounds that a syrup can't be a sugar. It's a technical decision corn refiners say.

Published on: May 31, 2012

Consumer confusion over high fructose corn syrup versus sugar and the nature of the corn-based sweetener versus true fructose has been a headache for the Corn Refiners Association for some time. A petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to name HFCS as corn sugar was aimed at solving some of that confusion. Yesterday, FDA denied the request.

Turns out a syrup and a sugar are defined pretty clearly for the regulatory agency. In a letter from FDA to the Audrae Erickson, president, Corn Refiners Association, the regulatory agency says it's "regulatory approach for the nomenclature of sugar and syrups is that sugar is a solid, dried and crystallized food; whereas syrip is an aqueous solution or liquid food." Based on that, the name corn sugar would not be consistent with the agency's current naming/labeling approach.

CORN SYRUP: The operative word syrup kept FDA from allowing name change for high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar.
CORN SYRUP: The operative word 'syrup' kept FDA from allowing name change for high fructose corn syrup to corn sugar.

In the letter, Michael Landa, director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA, says changing the HFCS name to corn sugar would "suggest that HFCS is a solid, dried and crystallized sweetener obtained from corn. Instead, HFCS is an aqueous solution sweetener derived from corn after enzymatic hydrolysis of cornstarch followed by enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose. Thus the 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."

In response, Erickson says that FDA's denial was 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."

In addition, Erickson also points out that FDA did not challenge the fact that the "vast majority of American consumers are confused about HFCS. 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." Erickson adds 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.

The refiners association had also petition to remove the term corn sugar as acceptable to define dextrose, but FDA says that change would not be allowed. One issue raised in the petition denial letter is that individuals working to avoid fructose due to intolerance or fructose malabsorption have been advised to avoid ingredients that contain fructose. Since those individuals currently have associated corn sugar to be an acceptable ingredient in their health when HFCS is not, "changing the name for HFCS to 'corn sugar' could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern," the letter says.