Consumer groups to FDA: The people have spoken – now make their verdict official

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April 19, 2012 – April 19, 2012 – With consumer opposition to the proposed relabeling of high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar”  running at 100 to 1, four consumer groups have ramped up the pressure on the  U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reject what is being increasingly viewed by the public as an blatant attempt to misidentify an additive that more and more shoppers wish to avoid.

In a letter sent this week to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the National Consumers League (NCL), Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and Shape Up America!, has once again asked the FDA to deny the 2010 petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA ) to have high fructose corn syrup renamed “corn sugar” on food labels.

“The main thing we wanted to bring attention to is the preponderance of opposition to the petition,” said Teresa Green, a food safety and nutritional fellow for the NCL.

The organizations involved have all previously gone on record as opposing the HFCS name switch in comments submitted last year. But with the petition still sitting at the FDA, the corn refiners have continued with their multimillion-dollar “sugar is sugar” advertising campaign, which the letter calls “a platform for marketing efforts that confuse the public about the nature of HFCS.”

The ads are also the subject of a pending lawsuit filed by sugar growers and refiners alleging that the CRA and its member companies conspired to “deceive the public” about HFCS.

The consumer groups also pointed out that there are 1,847 comments submitted by individuals opposing the name change that have been posted at the FDA docket, with an additional 3,000 or so sent to the agency but not yet put online.

“This means,” the letter noted, “that nearly 5,000 individual consumers have written FDA and oppose the CRA petition for a name change,” whereas “only about 40 individual consumers have submitted comments supporting the CRA position.” Those numbers show that opposition to the “corn sugar” name switch is running on “a ratio of 100 to 1” the NCL said in a press release sent out this week.

The letter also mentions HFCS 90, a super-high fructose sweetener that I wrote about a few weeks ago. HFCS 90 is a high fructose corn syrup formulation that is 90 percent fructose, extremely sweet, and pitched by a leading manufacturer as being “the ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

CRA already asked to can the “corn sugar” ads

The CRA, in fact,  has been flooding the airwaves with its pitch for several years, trying to convince consumers that “sugar is sugar” and that there is essentially no difference between natural sugar and HFCS. But last October, a letter from the FDA released by the Associated Press revealed that the agency had noticed the Big Corn campaign as well, and wasn’t happy with it. The letter asked the CRA to stop using “corn sugar” as a synonym for HFCS and to “re-examine your websites and modify statements that use the term.” But that request seems to have been totally disregarded by the corn refiners, as the consumer groups complained in their own letter. “The FDA’s warning letter to the CRA,” it notes, “is a step in the right direction, but the term ‘corn sugar’ continues to appear on the CRA web site…(and) the term ‘corn sugar’ continues to appear in an extensive nationally televised advertising campaign…”

But while the CRA continues to refer to HFCS as a “sugar made from corn,” consumers aren’t so easily fooled, if the latest comments found at the FDA docket that talk about “ being fooled by the CRA” and “consumer deception” are any indication. One respondent, for instance, posted this observation: “consumer clarity????? How long has High Fructose Corn Syrup been on the market??? Don’t you think that consumers already have ‘clarity’ as to what this is. I’m no genius but you cannot fool the public like that.”

Or, as the letter from the consumer organizations put it, “Permitting HFCS to be called ‘corn sugar’ would allow manufacturers to conceal this ingredient from consumers…” adding, “Given the thousands of comments FDA has received opposing the pendency of the CRA petition, and the continued misleading use by CRA of the term ‘corn sugar’ in marketing, FDA should act decisively and deny the CRA petition.”

Keep those comments on this “corn sugar” scam coming!

As continued pressure is put on the FDA to deny the CRA petition that’s been lingering at the agency for some time now, it’s vital that consumer comments continue to come in. The delay means you still have a chance to speak your mind about this classic case of attempted food identity theft!

Click here to send your comments to the FDA. You can copy and paste some sample messages from this page, or compose one of your own.

And remember –“corn sugar” is actually dextrose, a long-recognized product that contains NO fructose. And “sugar,” one of the oldest natural sweeteners, can only be derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, not from a  laboratory-concocted sweetener. So please tell the FDA to reject this ridiculous attempt to conceal HFCS on packaging. You can say, “Food Identity Theft sent me!”