FDA Denies Alternate Name for High Fructose Corn Syrup

Date: Jun 01, 2012

In recent years, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has been the subject of much negative media attention.[1] In response, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) launched a sizeable marketing campaign designed to give the sweetening agent a more positive image[2] and filed a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requesting that it authorize the phrase "corn sugar" as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS. The petition also requested that the FDA eliminate "corn sugar" as an alternate name for dextrose and replace all references to "corn sugar" with "dextrose." The CRA reasoned that the name HFCS is confusing to consumers and that the name "corn syrup" more accurately represents consumer expectations. Additionally, the CRA claimed that consumers do not currently associate "corn sugar" with dextrose and that the term "corn sugar" is seldom used in food labeling.

The FDA denied the petition on May 30, 2012, claiming that to change the name of HFCS to "corn sugar" would be confusing to consumers.[3] Under the FDA's standard nomenclature, a "sugar" is a solid, dried, and crystallized food. A syrup, on the other hand, is used to describe an aqueous solution or liquid food. Thus, the FDA found that the use of the term "corn sugar" would suggest that HFCS is a solid, dried, and crystallized sweetener when in fact it is an aqueous solution.

Moreover, the FDA found that "corn sugar" has been used to describe dextrose for over 30 years and is regularly used as the term for dextrose in scientific literature and on public websites. FDA typically looks to the usage of the term in the public literature to determine whether the product name is an appropriate, common or usual name. Finally, the term "corn sugar" has traditionally described sweeteners that can safely be consumed by individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption. As a result, the FDA opined that changing the name of HFCS to "corn sugar" could pose a health concern to these individuals.

Despite FDA's denial of the petition on what the CRA calls "narrow, technical grounds," the association maintains its position that the vast majority of Americans are confused by the name HFCS.[4]

For more information, please contact Melvin S. Drozen (drozen@khlaw.com, +1 202.434.4222) or Evangelia C. Pelonis (pelonis@khlaw.com,
+1 202.434.4106).

[1] CBS News Staff, FDA rejects industry bid to change name of high fructose corn syrup to "corn sugar," CBS News (May 31, 2012 12:06 PM), http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57444586-10391704/fda-rejects-industry-bid-to-change-name-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup-to-corn-sugar/.

[2] Id; See also Myth vs. Facts, The Facts about High Fructose Corn Syrup, SweetSurprise.com, http://sweetsurprise.com/hfcs-myths-and-facts?gclid=CPfDjK6rq7ACFYFo4AodRGj-WQ. The CRA campaign includes efforts to address common perceptions regarding the health effects, taste characteristics, and production methods of HFCS.

[3] Letter from Michael M. Landa, Director, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, to Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association, (May 30, 2012) http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/OfficeofFoods/CFSAN/CFSANFOIAElectronicReadingRoom/ucm305226.htm.

[4] Press Release, Corn Refiners Association, Statement of Audrae Erickson, President, Corn Refiners Association on the Food & Drug Administration Denial of Petition (May 30, 2010) at http://www.corn.org/press/newsroom/fda-petition-denial-statement/.