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Official Slams Corn Syrup Rebranding

posted on September 23, 2011


LOS ANGELES (AP) - A recent attempt by the corn industry to
change the name of a widely used but increasingly controversial
sweetener was misleading and could have robbed consumers of
important information, a top official at the Food and Drug
Administration said in documents obtained by The Associated Press.
     The comments came last year as the Corn Refiners Association
sought clarity over whether it could change the name of high
fructose corn syrup to just "corn syrup." That informal request
was subsequently withdrawn and in September 2010, the group filed a
formal petition seeking a more radical name change: "corn sugar."
     The corn industry is attempting an image makeover for high
fructose corn syrup after some scientists linked it to obesity and
other health problems and some food companies started touting
products that did not contain the ingredient. High fructose corn
syrup is present in most sodas and a staggering array of processed
foods.
     In response to the Corn Refiners Association's request to use
the term "corn syrup," Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy
commissioner for foods, told colleagues he was uncomfortable with
changing the name and suggested that allowing it would deprive
consumers of important information and invite ridicule.
     "It would be affirmatively misleading to change the name of the
ingredient after all this time, especially in light of the
controversy surrounding it," Taylor told colleagues in an email
dated March 15, 2010. "If we allow it, we will rightly be mocked
both on the substance of the outcome and the process through which
it was achieved."
     Taylor heads the FDA's food section and oversees food labeling
to ensure products contain clear nutritional information.
     FDA spokesman Doug Karas said Taylor's comments should be looked
at in the context of the proposed name change to "corn syrup" and
nothing should be inferred about what the FDA's decision may be
regarding the ongoing review to change the name of high fructose
corn syrup to "corn sugar."
     "The conversation you have is in a different context and does
not, or will not, affect the outcome of the petition itself,"
Karas said.
     In his email, Taylor also expresses frustration that the corn
industry had asked informally to change the name of high fructose
corn syrup and he worried about the agency's credibility if it
rubber stamped the request.
     Corn Refiners Association spokeswoman Audrae Erickson said she
had not seen Taylor's statements so could not comment on them.
     In an emailed statement, she said the inquiry about whether the
term "corn syrup" could be used "speaks for itself, was provided
for agency consideration and comment, and carried no misleading
element whatsoever."
     The corn industry filed its name-change petition with the FDA in
September 2010 and a decision could be another year away. The
public has been invited to submit comments about the proposal.
     Erickson said the corn industry wanted to change the name of
high fructose corn syrup because a survey found that consumers
better understand what is in the substance when the term "corn
sugar" is used to describe it.
     Dr. David Kessler, who served as FDA commissioner from 1990 to
1997, said he had not seen Taylor's email firsthand but said it
indicated the corn industry may hit hurdles as it tries to rebrand
high fructose corn syrup as "corn sugar."
     "Whatever you call it, it should have little place in the
American diet," Kessler said. "It certainly sounds like the FDA
clearly signaled the industry that this is not a wise thing to
do."
     Even though the term "corn sugar" has not been approved, the
corn industry has started using it in a series of high-profile
television, online and print advertisements telling consumers that
"sugar is sugar" and that corn sugar is natural and safe,
provided it's consumed in moderation.
     The sugar industry has filed a lawsuit over the claims, saying
they amount to false advertising. A federal judge is reviewing a
motion to dismiss the case.
     Scientists are split over whether high fructose corn syrup is
any more damaging than regular sugar. The American Medical
Association has said there's not enough evidence to restrict its
use of high fructose corn syrup, though it wants more research.


Tags: agriculture corn fructose labeling sweetner