Corn Refiners admit HFCS with 90 percent fructose used ‘for decades’

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April 18, 2013

Exactly how much fructose does a can of Coke contain?

If you’ve been reading my blogs here at Food Identity Theft, you’ve no doubt heard about HFCS 90, a ‘super-high’ high fructose corn syrup formulation which, according to a leading manufacturer of this laboratory-created sweetener, Archer Daniels Midland, is the “ideal choice for reduced calorie foods such as beverages, jellies and dressings.”

My previous research indicated that both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) know about HFCS 90 and its food uses. Numerous studies, patents (including a method for using HFCS 90 to produce a reduced-calorie beverage that was assigned to PepsiCo) and journal articles refer to it and all the different foods that can be sweetened with it.

Of course, the position of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has been that the fructose content of HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar — saying on its web site that the sweetener “is actually NOT high in fructose.”

But now, the CRA itself has come out and admitted that HFCS containing such mega doses of fructose has been in use “with FDA knowledge for decades.”

Given that the fructose content of HFCS is a topic the CRA would prefer not to discuss, it’s unlikely the organization would ever have made such an acknowledgment if not for a petition filed with the FDA this past September by Citizens For Health.  The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose levels above 55 percent (the highest amount the FDA allows) and in the interim, require that actual percentage of fructose it contains be specified on the label.

In responding to that petition, J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, not only states that HFCS 90 has been used for “decades,” but also claims the “FDA acknowledged this in 1996 when it issued the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) affirmation regulation.” What Mr. Mohan neglects to mention, however, is in what context the FDA “acknowledged” HFCS 90 use.

In fact, what the agency said was, “This product contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55. The HFCS-90 is not included in this rulemaking because the agency does not have adequate information to assess the safety of residual levels of the processing materials in the final product.”  The FDA also noted that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption that is not balanced with glucose consumption would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”

Seeking further clarification, I asked the agency last year about HFCS 90, and was informed in an email from  a spokesperson that HFCS 90 is a “nonstandardized food” and is “not high fructose corn syrup.”

‘Limited’ to what, exactly?

Mohan’s response also makes mention of “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55 %” in HFCS, which he apparently believes “would be expressly permitted” by regulatory officials.

Those so-called “fluctuations” were ‘discovered’ in 2010 by Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Goren, who regards higher fructose intake as a risk factor in health problems such as diabetes (as do other experts), analyzed samples of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, and found that fructose  levels in the HFCS used in these popular beverages went as high as 65 percent.

“The only information we have,”  Goran told me in an interview, “is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS 55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda.”

In fact, consumers have been given the impression that HFCS is even lower in fructose than that.  In  a TV ad blitz sponsored by the CRA, they were told that HFCS and sugar are basically the same, having “virtually” equal amounts of fructose and glucose. (Natural sugar, or sucrose, contains a fixed amount of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose). One commercial – although it wasn’t produced by the CRA, but another group called “SweetScam.com” a site attacking critics of HFCS – even depicts HFCS as a psychiatric patient complaining to Dr. Ruth about having a name like “high fructose corn syrup” that was really “stupid…as I’m actually low in fructose” and being advised to change it to “corn sugar” (a recommendation that was flatly rejected by the FDA).

But Mohan, must have missed all those commercials, judging from his letter to the FDA, which also states that  “…there is no evidence that consumers have been ‘told’” about the fructose content of HFCS, and that “(I)nformation of that specificity simply does not appear on product labels or in the advertising or marketing of HFCS-containing, end-user products.” And while his letter claims that HFCS 90 uses are “minor” and that the “FDA has been aware of these limited uses for decades,” he provides no hints as to which food products may actually contain it or any idea of what “minor” and “limited” actually mean in this context.

All of this leaves us with a question: how do we know the precise fructose content of food products containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what, exactly, are those supposedly “limited” and “minor” items that the CRA now admits have contained the 90 percent fructose version of HFCS for all these years?

These are things every American consumer should have a right to know. And by signing and supporting this Citizens for Health Petition to have HFCS fructose amount labeled, you’ll be making a statement that secrecy is impermissible when it comes to what we’re ingesting – and how much.