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What’s in a Name? For High Fructose Corn Syrup, Everything

September 24, 2011

You know it’s bad when researchers defend table sugar as the healthier choice.

High fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener that has primarily replaced sucrose in the food industry, is found in everything from soda to ketchup to salad dressing to cereal. It’s cheaper, yes, and you may not have tasted the difference, but more and more studies show that high fructose corn syrup is really bad for your health.

One Princeton research team found that high-fructose corn syrup causes significantly more weight gain and body fat increase than normal table sugar, even when caloric intake is the same. Other study found that it contains mercury. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma (recommended in this summer’s reading list) blames high fructose corn syrup as a major contributor to the American obesity epidemic.

This news has amounted to a PR crisis for the corn industry, and the Corn Refiners Association has since launched a massive image makeover of the liquid sweetener. As part of a major rebranding campaign, they petitioned the Food and Drug Administration last year to change the name to from high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar.”

Though FDA regulatory approval is still pending, the corn industry has moved forward with its “corn sugar” campaign, and new advertisements and commercials insist that “sugar is sugar,” safe when eaten in moderation.

AP has now learned the FDA has strongly urged the corn industry to stop using the term “corn sugar” until it receives approval. Michael Taylor, the FDA’s commissioner for foods, wrote that any name change would be “misleading” given the controversy surrounding high fructose corn syrup, and might confuse consumers.

Although the FDA cannot exercise any regulatory control over this advertising campaign – the Corn Refiners Association is promoting an industry, not a product – FDA director Barbara Schneeman wrote that the FDA might prosecute food companies for incorrectly labeling ingredients if they use the term.

Exactly one year ago yesterday, The New York Times ran an article asking a panel of nutrition experts what they thought about the petitioned name change. Integrative Nutrition lecturer Dr. Andrew Weil was among those surveyed, and he argued against the term “corn sugar”:

“I’m in favor of sticking with ‘high-fructose corn syrup.’ That’s what it is, and I don’t agree that it’s innocuous. It’s a cheap sweetener, a marker of low-quality industrial food and a major promoter of insulin resistance and obesity in our population.”

Do you think changing the name to “corn sugar” is misleading?