The Associated Press is reporting Friday morning that the Food and Drug Administration has cautioned the corn industry over its ongoing use of the term “corn sugar” to describe high fructose corn syrup, asking them to stop using the proposed new name before it has received regulatory approval. The FDA has no regulatory control over the corn association’s advertising because it is not selling a product but promoting an industry. The federal agency, however, can prosecute companies that incorrectly label ingredients (known as “misbranding” under the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)). The FDA stated it may launch enforcement action against food companies listing high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar.”
In an attempt to give a controversial ingredient a makeover the Corn Refiners Association wants to use “corn sugar” as an alternative for high fructose corn syrup. HFC is the name for the widely used liquid sweetener used on most sodas and packaged foods. Many scientists linked HFC to obesity, diabetes and other health problems.
The Corn Refiners Association has for months been using “corn sugar” on television commercials and at least two websites: cornsugar.com and sweetsurprise.com. A series of high-profile television, online and print advertisements tell consumers that “sugar is sugar” and that corn sugar is natural and safe, provided it’s consumed in moderation. In a July 12 letter obtained by the AP, Barbara Schneeman, an FDA director, wrote to the Corn Refiners Association to say she was concerned with the trade group using the terms high fructose corn syrup and “corn sugar” interchangeably.
“We request that you re-examine your websites and modify statements that use the term ‘corn sugar’ as a synonym for (high fructose corn syrup),” Schneeman wrote. As of Thursday, two months after the letter was sent, none of that wording had been changed. Audrae Erickson, spokeswoman for the Corn Refiners Association, said in an email to the AP that the group is currently reviewing its materials and will make changes if necessary.
It was just last year that the Corn Refiners Association sought clarity over whether it could change the name of high fructose corn syrup to just “corn syrup.” That informal request was subsequently withdrawn and in September 2010, the group filed a formal petition seeking a more radical name change: “corn sugar.”
In response to the Corn Refiners Association’s request to use the term “corn syrup,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods, told colleagues he was uncomfortable with changing the name and suggested that allowing it would deprive consumers of important information and invite ridicule.
“It would be affirmatively misleading to change the name of the ingredient after all this time, especially in light of the controversy surrounding it,” Taylor told colleagues in an email dated March 15, 2010. “If we allow it, we will rightly be mocked both on the substance of the outcome and the process through which it was achieved.”
Taylor heads the FDA’s food section and oversees food labeling to ensure products contain clear nutritional information.
FDA spokesman Doug Karas said Taylor’s comments should be looked at in the context of the proposed name change to “corn syrup” and nothing should be inferred about what the FDA’s decision may be regarding the ongoing review to change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.”
Until a formal decision is reached products should be properly labeled. It will be interesting to watch as the FDA enforces current regulations on HFCs.
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