High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) emerged in the US market in the 1970s and early 1980s and was the preferred choice of many manufacturers of sweetened cereals, sodas and fast foods. Its popularity among the manufacturers is because of its cheapness when compared with sugar and its ability to mix easily with most of recipes due to its liquid form.
The declining usage of ‘corn syrup’
However, with several scientific research pointing towards corn syrup contributing towards obesity and other sugar related health hazards, the preference for corn syrup over sugar was reversed among manufacturers as well as among the consumers. Although professional bodies such as the American Medical Association iterated that it is still not possible to state corn syrup is more harmful towards the health than using normal sugar, its declining trend has made the corn syrup industry suffer extensively.
The efforts towards revitalizing corn syrup industry
In this backdrop, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) embarked on a campaign to revitalize the industry by informing the public about its equivalent nature to the more widely used ‘crystallized sugars’. In addition, the Association made a petition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow them a nomenclature change, in which the term ‘corn syrup’ be renamed as ‘corn sugar’ in nutrition labels. However, in May 2012, the FDA refused to agree on the claims made by the CRA, much to the delight of the sugar producers in the US.
Important aspects related to the FDA ruling
When issuing its ruling, the FDA refers to the regulatory approach for the nomenclature of ‘sugar’ as a solid, dried and crystallized food whereas the ‘syrup’ is an aqueous solution or a liquid food. It further highlights that the FDA understanding of the two terms are consistent with the general understanding of the same in English dictionaries. Thus, the FDA states in its ruling that if the CRA is allowed to use the term ‘corn sugar’ to refer to ‘corn syrup’, the term would deceive the consumers with regard to the nature and the characteristics of corn syrup, which is not a solid or a crystallized substance. Therefore, the use of the term ‘corn sugar’ “would not be consistent with the general principles governing common or usual names under 21 CFR 102.5.”
Consumer belief with regard to corn syrup being a dextrose
At the same time, the FDA also informed the CRA that the administration was not persuaded by the arguments made in the petition in which it claims the consumers do not associate ‘corn sugar’ with dextrose, as the term ‘corn sugar’ has been used to describe dextrose for over 30 years. Furthermore, the FDA cites the multiple use of the term ‘corn sugar’ to refer to dextrose by many websites and literature when describing corn sugar sold as food, when describing it as a food ingredient, as well as when it is used in beer brewing.
Health hazards of renaming ‘corn syrup’ to ‘corn sugar’
In addition, the FDA also expressed concerns with regard to people who use ‘corn sugar’ instead of ‘corn syrup’ because of their inability to use normal sugar or corn syrup due to ‘fructose malabsorption’ or ‘hereditary fructose intolerance’. In a situation where ‘corn syrup’ was termed ‘corn sugar’, these patients would be at risk of consuming ‘corn syrup’ and developing complications related to the same.
In concluding its ruling, the FDA states, “the petition does not provide sufficient grounds for the agency to authorize “corn sugar” as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS. Therefore, FDA is denying your petition in accordance with 21 CFR 10.30(e)(3).”