Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), used as a sweetener in virtually everything from cereal to ketchup, fell to a 20-year low last year as concerns grow about its health and environmental impact.
To mitigate the public relations damage, The Corn Refiners Association sought permission from the federal government last year to use the name “corn sugar” on food labels instead of high-fructose corn syrup.
Since HFCS has been linked to obesity and diabetes, among other health issues, some food companies have begun to emphasis that their products don’t contain the ingredient — among them is Starbucks, Snapple, Kraft Foods.
In the meantime, assuming the FDA could take years to decide, the corn industry used the term corn sugar in TV advertising, print ads and on websites without FDA approval, and released a series of ads in a media propaganda blitz claiming high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally the same as sugar.
It isn’t. The extra metabolic step for fructose molecules is missing in HFCS, which is why a Princeton University research team concluded that excess fructose in HFCS is metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.
The Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Co. and C&H Sugar Company Inc. filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against six corn processors and their lobbying group. A month or so later, five more sugar companies joined the lawsuit seeking to prevent the corn industry from marketing high-fructose corn syrup as natural sugar.
In July, an FDA directer, Barbara Schneeman, wrote to the Corn Refiners Association expressing concern over the Corn Refiners Association using the terms high fructose corn syrup and corn sugar interchangeably.
Two months after the letter was sent, none of that wording had been changed. Thumbing their noses at the FDA, Audrae Erickson, spokeswoman for the Corn Refiners Association, claimed the group is currently reviewing its materials and will make changes if necessary.
“We do not believe that anyone could be confused or believe that the statements regarding ‘corn sugar’ on the websites refer to anything other than high fructose corn syrup,” Erickson wrote.
The FDA has the power to prosecute companies that incorrectly label ingredients and Schneeman wrote that the FDA may launch enforcement action against food companies listing high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar”.
At a recent hearing, corn industry attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the sugar makers’ lawsuit on the ludicrous grounds that the advertising campaign is protected speech because it forms part of a national conversation about the merits and pitfalls of high fructose corn syrup and sugar in general.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall said she would issue a ruling on the dismissal motion, but gave NO time frame.