Those who aren’t fans of puns should do well to stay away from the press this week. With the US’s Federal Drug Administration having denied the Corn Refiners Association’s petition to change High Fructose Corn Syrup to “corn sugar”, it has become a pun-lovers paradise out there with editors pulling out all of the stops on sugar and sweet-related nonsense.
Sugaronline does not succumb to such silliness and instead prefers to mutilate Shakespeare.
Tomfoolery aside, there are some who are quite aghast that the FDA actually ruled against the Corn Refiners Association whose esteemed members include the likes of Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill. For an agency who is meant to be an industry regulator, it has been known to often take the side of industry rather than consumers, especially deep-pocketed industry.
Yet this week, the FDA did just that. It stood up to fancy ads, expensive lawyers and, some might say, obnoxious pressure groups, and took the side of the consumer.
Back in 2010, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the FDA to change the common name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to corn sugar. One minor problem was that corn sugar already existed as the common name for dextrose and people (read: consumers) who can’t tolerate fructose rely on dextrose ala corn sugar to get their sweet without risking their health.
Unfortunately for the FDA, standing up for the rights of consumers was not the argument that it led off with when it came to rejecting the name change for HCFS.
Perhaps it saw technicality as the stronger defence, or the safer one, but the FDA decided that its main reason for rejecting the corn sugar name for HCFS was that “sugar” implies something that is dry and crystallized whereas HCFS is liquid. So even though they’re both sugary substances and both are composed of fructose and glucose, a liquid cannot be a dry crystal so therefore HCFS cannot be sugar.
It’s hard to doubt the validity behind the argument. Anyone can see that syrup is a liquid, but what it did was open up the FDA to criticism that the ruling was based on technical hogwash and has little or nothing to do with consumer perception, which is really what this whole exercise was about. The HFCS industry is under the (right) impression that consumers associate their product with obesity whereas they see sugar as natural, something they’ve tried desperately to change.
Perhaps consumers are under the impression that HFCS is super processed because it is super processed. You’ve got sugar on the one hand where the juice is basically squeezed out of the beet or the cane, whirled around really fast and then crystallized. Voila, sugar. Yet according to the FDA’s rejection letter, “Instead, HFCS is an aqueous solution sweetener derived from corn after enzymatic hydrolysis of cornstarch, followed by enzymatic conversion of glucose (dextrose) to fructose. Thus, the use of the term “sugar” to describe HFCS, a product that is a syrup, would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.”
Honestly, after reading that description, one might wonder why anyone would want to put such a thing to one’s body. But hey. Maybe the key to being “corn sugar” is to actually “being” corn sugar. According to the FDA, corn sugar is dextrose, and HFCS is dextrose before it’s processed into fructose. Perhaps instead of all this bantering back and forth, they should just reformulate HFCS so that it’s not HFCS at all, but take it a step backwards so that it remains dextrose.
Yea, not so likely to happen. The corn folks seem to be very pleased with how nicely HFCS can be used in everything under the sun. Sure, it’s not dried and crystal-y but it’s golden liquid-y that can be found in just about everything sold on American supermarket shelves, and beyond.
This corn sugar story isn’t quite over yet, though the FDA’s ruling will in no doubt have an impact on what remains of this little tussle between corn people and sugar people. Back when the CRA decided that corn sugar was the way to go, they launched a big nationwide ad campaign trying to “educate” consumers that sugar sugar and corn sugar are basically the same thing. This followed on their attempt to “use sugar’s good name” in the obesity debate so went about trying to lay the foundation for the FDA’s eventual ruling that people would indeed think corn sugar was sugar sugar was HFCS.
Though this rebranding attempt has obviously failed, there is still pending legal action in a federal court in Los Angeles over false advertising on the side of the CRA. The suit, brought about by the Sugar Association, is still waiting on the ruling but there is some expectation that the FDA decision to reject the corn sugar petition will support the Sugar Association’s case. The case is, after all, about false advertising, and if the FDA says that HFCS isn’t corn sugar, than that’s about as false as advertising can get.