Mind & Body

FDA: High Fructose Corn Syrup Not a Sugar

TIMEOctober 1, 2015
Two workers stand in front of a pile of refined sugar
Two workers stand in front of a pile of refined sugar in this file photo. According to the FDA, the term "sugar" can only be used for a solid, dried, and crystallized food. (Mauricio Lima/AFP/Getty Images)

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), an extremely common ingredient in processed foods and drinks, will keep its name and will keep its negative reputation.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a bid from the Corn Refiners Association to rename the ingredient “corn sugar” as an optional name for the sweetener.

Corn Refiners also wanted the FDA to stop calling another type of sugar, dextrose, “corn sugar.”

The industry group said that consumers mistakenly believe that HFCS has more calories and is sweeter than sugar. On its website, the association says the ingredient does not contribute to obesity any more than other sweeteners, and is equivalent in nutritional value to sucrose.

“FDA’s regulatory approach for the nomenclature of sugar and syrups is that sugar is a solid, dried, and crystallized food; whereas syrup is an aqueous solution or liquid food,” the agency stated in a letter.

It added that the term “sugar” can only be used to describe a food that meets those criteria, and pointed to the properties of dextrose, lactose, and sucrose.

Calling HFCS a sugar would therefore imply that it is solid, when it is not, the FDA said.

The FDA said that dextrose, or corn sugar is a safe ingredient for people who have hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption.

“Because such individuals have associated ‘corn sugar’ to be an acceptable ingredient to their health when ‘high fructose corn syrup’ is not, changing the name for HFCS to ‘corn sugar’ could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern,” the FDA letter reads.

But the Corn Refiners Association said the FDA did not address “overwhelming scientific evidence” that the sweetener is a form of sugar with the same nutritional properties, it said in a statement. The FDA, it said, made its decision “on narrow, technical grounds.”

“The fact remains–which FDA did not challenge–that the vast majority of American consumers are confused about HFCS,” the statement reads.

At the same time, the Corn Refiners Association also ran a marketing and public relations campaign to challenge high fructose corn syrup’s bad reputation, saying the sweetener is the same as sugar. The Sugar Association last year filed a lawsuit against the organization, saying the claim is misleading.

The Sugar Association, in a statement, commended the FDA’s move to block high fructose corn syrup from being called corn sugar.

“The FDA’s ruling represents a victory for American consumers,” Sugar Association lawyer Dan Callister said, adding that “only sugar is sugar.”

“The next step is for the federal court to end the [Corn Refiners Association]’s misleading propaganda campaign,” he said.

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