FDA Denies Corn Sugar Petition, Only Sugar is Sugar

Jun 28, 2012   

For years, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), a national trade association representing the corn refining industry, has promoted the rebranding and name change of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to “corn sugar.” The CRA suggests that many consumers are confused and misled by the ingredient name HFCS. CRA proposes that, as an alternative to HFCS, the name “corn sugar” more closely reflects reasonable consumer expectations and more accurately describes the ingredient. The CRAs rebranding efforts have included filing a citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and launching a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.

 Citizen Petition

In September 2010, the CRA filed a citizen petition with the FDA requesting that the Agency recognize “corn sugar” as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS as an ingredient on food labels. However, on May 30, 2012, the FDA denied the petition stating that the CRA “does not provide sufficient grounds for the Agency to authorize ‘corn sugar’ as an alternate common or usual name for HFCS.”
In its denial of the citizen petition, the FDA stated that the proposed name does not fully satisfy the criteria for common or usual names of foods. Common or usual names of foods must identify or describe, in as simple and direct terms as possible, the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties. 21 C.F.R. 102.5(a). “Sugar” is permitted as part of the name for foods that are solid, dried, and crystallized. HFCS is a syrup, a liquid or aqueous solution, derived form corn. Thus, the use of the term Ëœsugar to describe HFCS, a product that is a syrup, would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of HFCS or its characterizing properties.
Additionally, the CRA petitioned the FDA to amend the common or usual name established by regulation for dextrose monohydrate, eliminating “corn sugar” as an alternative name. 21 C.F.R. 168.111. The petition argued that consumers do not commonly associate the term “corn sugar” with dextrose. Not persuaded by this argument, the FDA stated that scientific literature and various public websites often use the term “corn sugar” to describe dextrose.

Furthermore, the FDA voiced concern that changing the name for HFCS to “corn sugar” could pose a public health risk. Individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance or fructose malabsorption avoid consuming ingredients that contain fructose. These individuals associate “corn sugar” with dextrose, which is an acceptable ingredient for their health, as opposed to fructose which is not. Therefore, changing the name for corn sugar could put these individuals at risk.    

Advertising Campaign Lawsuit

In 2008, the CRA launched a multi-million dollar advertising campaign in order to rebrand HFCS as “corn sugar” in the eyes of consumers. The advertisements claimed that “sugar is sugar” and “your body cant tell the difference” between HFCS and natural sugar.

The advertising campaign is the basis of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by the sugar industry in April 2011. In the suit against the CRA, the sugar industry alleged that the advertising campaign is false and misleading, and violative of Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1125(a). The complaint states that representations that HFCS and sugar are metabolically and nutritionally the same are literally false or, at best, reckless and misleading. In support of the allegation, the sugar industry points to the molecular differences between the free-floating monosaccharides fructose and glucose in HFCS and the bonded disaccharide sucrose in sugar. In order to demonstrate the nutritional difference, the complaint cited to a Princeton study which found a causal link between HFCS consumption and health problems that are not equally presented by the consumption of sugar.      

Fuerst Ittleman will continue to monitor the Courts decision and developments in the regulation of sugar and food products. For more information, please contact us at contact@fidjlaw.com