Petition to sugar-coat HFCS hits sour note with Senate’s only farmer

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November 17, 2011

The escalating number of objections to the proposal to rebrand high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar” received by the Food and Drug Administration now includes one from the “only active farmer” currently serving in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg at the beginning of the month to go on record as opposing the proposed name switch. Tester pointed out that HFCS isn’t sugar, and that calling the ingredient by another name would “confuse consumers” and “adversely impact farmers.”

In his letter, the senator noted that, “Years ago the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in response to a request from the corn refiners, established through regulation the longstanding name for this product, ‘high fructose corn syrup’. It is the name by which consumers now identify HFCS as an ingredient in foods. Conversely, for hundreds of years ‘sugar’ has been known to the public as the product of sugar beets or sugar cane, technically ‘sucrose.’ ‘We are concerned that if FDA were to allow companies to change the name of HFCS to ‘corn sugar’ on food labels, it would confuse consumers and mislead them into thinking that their food contains a different ingredient.” The letter also recommended that the FDA should follow a “science-based process” to protect consumers.”

Tester has now joined several thousand other consumers and health professionals who have written to the FDA in opposition to the 2010 petition from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to rename HFCS.

As I have been reporting on here at Food Identity Theft, the FDA docket (which posts submitted comments and documents), for this CRA petition was stuck at 127 public submissions for the longest time.

Then, at the end of October, after sending numerous e-mails to my FDA contact, I was told there had been over 3,398 comments submitted. At that same time, the number of posted comments started rising. Currently, the FDA finally got around to posting 411 public submissions, the vast majority of which are flat out against the name change. The  following postings are typical of some of the latest online at the FDA:

“The tricky idea set forth by the corn refiners is a sham out to trick the American public into thinking HFCS is good, or just confusing the general population. The FDA needs to act in best interest of the people of the US, not the corporations of the US. The FDA needs to stand up and do their job and protect the people of the US…. “

“Studies show that despite the commercials sponsored by the corn industry, HFCS is not the same as sugar, and it should therefore not have the same name.”

To those who know what the CRA is attempting to do, it’s obvious that this is nothing more than a marketing scam, Many who don’t, however, would probably have no idea what the term“corn sugar” really means, even if they’re trying to avoid HFCS.

Health risk of name change also stressed

In a recent survey conducted by the Sugar Association, half of the folks who were asked didn’t realize that a label showing “corn sugar” could contain HFCS. The survey also pointed out that such a name change could pose life-threatening risks to people with fructose intolerance and endanger those with fructose malabsorption.

That particular danger was emphasized in one of the comments I saw at the FDA docket:

“My daughter is fructose intolerant and cannot in any way, shape, or form have high fructose corn syrup. To change the labeling to corn sugar is misleading. There are thousands upon thousands of people against the use of high fructose corn syrup in foods. Why do you think so many manufacturers are now taking it OUT of their foods. If my daughter had not been diagnosed when she was she could have gone into organ failure and died. I am sick and tired of the Corn Growers Association thinking they can get away with telling half truths about high fructose corn syrup.”

Meanwhile, the Corn Refiners Association, not wanting to miss a media minute in which to deliver their “corn sugar” spiel, responded almost immediately, calling the report a “shopping mall survey” that is misleading consumers. Now, as it happens, the CRA did its own little survey a while back, which I reported on in an October blog. This particular “study” measured responses to both the “corn sugar” moniker and two other made-up names, and came to some interesting conclusions, one of which is that when the people being surveyed were given an actual definition of HFCS, over 30 percent said the best name for it is what it is called now – high fructose corn syrup!

Be sure to give the FDA your opinion on this HFCS name game by clicking here.