Corn refiners can’t seem to give up their name claim on ‘sugar’

Posted by
June 22, 2012

Kudos go out this week to Brian McFadden, writer/illustrator of The Strip, a weekly cartoon featured in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times. While reporters, editorial writers and opinion columnists of all stripe have repeatedly – and erroneously – used the term “sugary drinks” in referring to the supersize sodas that Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban from being sold in various venues, it took cartoonist McFadden to correctly characterize them. His June 17 cartoon “Amended Stop and Frisk Procedures” depicts new groups that could be frisked by police in order to make the practice, which has been the subject of considerable protest in the Black and Latino communities, more politically acceptable. Among them: “Heavyset citizens – likely to be carrying more than 20 ounces of high fructose corn syrup subcutaneously.”  To view the entire strip, click here.

Of course, the fallacious reference to “sugary drinks,” as I noted in a blog last week, didn’t originate with either the media or the mayor’s office, but rather turned out to be a phrase bandied about by the U.S. Department of Agriculture “to convey the idea of any drink that is sweetened with added sugars,” as USDA spokesman John S. Webster explained it to me.

But, as it turns out, that little ‘s’ that separates “sugar” from “sugars” makes all the difference in the world to the people who are still attempting to represent high fructose corn syrup as a form of sugar, despite the recent ruling by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that HFCS can neither be classified as “corn sugar” or, for that matter, “sugar.”

To refer back to another blog I posted on this subject last month, “sugars” is a regulatory term that appears on the  Nutrition Facts Label defined as “the sum of all free mono- and disaccharides (such as glucose, fructose, lactose and sucrose),” with no information as to what the source is or if the ‘sugars’ are naturally occurring or added.”

“Sugar,” on the other hand, has a distinctly different meaning, according to the FDA, which noted that when “sugar” is used to define identity or as an ingredient statement, it must mean real sugar, either from sugar cane or sugar beets. And that meaning was further clarified in the FDA’s May 30 rejection of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petition to have HFCS redesignated as “corn sugar,” in which the agency noted “that sugar is a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food.”

In other words, high fructose corn syrup, even though it may be included under the broad category of “sugars,” does not meet the definition of “sugar” in any way, shape or form.

But here’s where the corn refiners, who apparently can’t bear to let go of the “corn sugar” label that they so prematurely promoted in commercials and interviews, have continued to engage in a bit of semantic sleight-of-hand. On their current “Sweet Surprise” website, they say this in regard to the FDA edict:

“The Corn Refiners Association works every day to educate consumers about high fructose corn syrup…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 Facts Panel on foods and beverages.”

It does? Well, that certainly didn’t jibe with our reading of the “simple, clear language” contained in that FDA denial letter. So, to clear up any confusion, which the CRA claimed was the purpose of that proposed name change, I placed a call to the CRA and was told my question would be relayed to the organization’s president, Audrae Erickson.

If I actually hear from Ms. Erickson, I’ll certainly let you know, as we here at Food Identity Theft would also like to eliminate any confusion regarding this issue on the part of readers – just as cartoonist McFadden may have done last Sunday for readers of the Times.