by Marion Nestle
Feb 28 2011

Should the FDA allow HFCS to be renamed “corn sugar”? I vote no.

A colleague pointed out to me today that I am listed nine times on the Corn Refiners Association website as supporting its petition to the FDA to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to corn sugar.

When the idea first came up, I didn’t think it mattered much.  But as I had to add more and more postscripts to my post on the issue, and as I read the comments on it, I was persuaded otherwise.   On balance, the arguments against changing the name outweigh the idea that it doesn’t matter (it matters to the Corn Refiners of course).

The FDA is collecting comments on the name change on its website.  I filed this comment today:

The FDA should deny the Corn Refiners petition to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to corn sugar.

I understand that the Corn Refiners Association uses my comments on its website to support its position. The website quotes comments I have made to the effect that HFCS is biochemically equivalent to sucrose. It is. But I do not believe that biochemical equivalence is a good reason for the FDA to agree to a name change at this point.

It is highly unlikely that public misunderstanding of nutritional biochemistry and the differential physiological effects of glucose vs. fructose will be addressed and corrected by changing the name of HFCS to corn sugar.

Therefore, the name change is not in the public interest. Its only purpose is to further the commercial interests of members of the Corn Refiners, and that is not one the FDA should be concerned about.

If you have thoughts about the petition, nothing could be easier than telling the FDA what you think:

1. Click on this link.

2. Look on the left side of the page “Results,” “Corn Refiners Association – Citizens Petition,” and on the right side a link that says “Submit a Comment.”

3. Click on “Submit a Comment.”  Fill out the form with your name and affiliation.  Type in your comment.  If a box comes up saying that you are taking too long, click OK and it will give you more time.

My understanding is that there is no particular deadline but rumors are that the FDA will consider all comments submitted by the end of this week.

1. Click on the following link:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;dct=O;rpp=10;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;s=FDA-2010-P-0491

2. You will see on the left side of the page “Results,” “Corn Refiners Association – Citizens Petition,” and on the right side a link that says “Submit a Comment.”

3. Just hit the “Submit a Comment” link, and then you just enter your name and affiliation, etc., type in your comment.

There is no formal comment deadline, but as usual, the sooner a comment is submitted, the more likely FDA will consider it. The best information I have is that FDA will consider all comments submitted by the end of this week.

1. Click on the following link:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;dct=O;rpp=10;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;s=FDA-2010-P-0491

2.  You will see on the left side of the page “Results,”  “Corn Refiners Association – Citizens Petition,” and on the right side a link that says “Submit a Comment.”

3.  Just hit the “Submit a Comment” link, and then you just enter your name and affiliation, etc., type in your comment.

There is no formal comment deadline, but as usual, the sooner a comment is submitted, the more likely FDA will consider it.  The best information I have is that FDA will consider all comments submitted by the end of this week.

1. Click on the following link:

http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;dct=O;rpp=10;so=DESC;sb=postedDate;po=0;s=FDA-2010-P-0491

2. You will see on the left side of the page “Results,” “Corn Refiners Association – Citizens Petition,” and on the right side a link that says “Submit a Comment.”

3. Just hit the “Submit a Comment” link, and then you just enter your name and affiliation, etc., type in your comment.

There is no formal comment deadline, but as usual, the sooner a comment is submitted, the more likely FDA will consider it. The best information I have is that FDA will consider all comments submitted by the end of this week.

  • http://www.thehealthculture.com Jan Henderson

    Did you know that 100 years ago Karo Corn Syrup fought the government to have its ingredient listed as “syrup” rather than “glucose?” At the time, the public associated syrup with maple syrup, which had a good image. Once they won the right to call it syrup, Wisconsin refused to sell it. More at http://bit.ly/goLTCG

  • http://nrn.com Bret Thorn

    Interesting. I just got an e-mail indicating that the corn refiners might actually suffer by having HCFS renamed.
    The release said “Recently, some marketers have begun to think removing HFCS from their products will increase sales. However, a recent independent survey conducted for the Corn Refiners Association by Sara Martens, vice president of the MSR Group, found that only 6.5 percent of participants named HFCS when asked if there were any food or beverage ingredients they were trying to limit or avoid in their diet. Meanwhile, 24.7 percent named sugar as an ingredient they were attempting to cut back on in their diet.”

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  • Rosanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN

    Marion,
    I enjoy your blog. I respect your opinions and value that you base them on science and facts. Unfortunately, many public opinions about HFCS are not based on any science or fact and as you’ve said here before many people think that it’s “poison”, and it’s not. I’m a nutrition consultant to the Corn Refiner’s so you are aware of the line I’ll toe, but I’d like your readers to consider this: Consumers are confused, and more importantly they are associating health issues with one ingredient in part because it has “high fructose” in its name. The hype surrounding HFCS dilutes other issues at hand: consuming too much junk and too much sugar overall. When HFCS is removed, another sugar and/or artificial sweetener replaces it. Focusing on one ingredient also allows people to avoid the real issue: The need to change eating behaviors for better health.

    You may be right that a name change alone may not correct public misunderstanding, but I do feel that simplifying food labels will help consumers decipher ingredients. Also, keep in mind that the Corn Refiner’s Association has been transparent about this proposed change from the get go.
    Thank you, Rosanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN

  • http://organaholic.com Doug Tedeschi

    Professor Nestle, you say that high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are “biochemically equivalent.” But in What To Eat, you show that sucrose is half fructose and half sucrose, while high-fructose corn syrup has a different ratio of fructose or glucose. (It can vary but it never seems to be 50-50.) Fructose and glucose are processed very differently in our bodies. In what way then do you mean that the two are biochemically equivalent?

    Many thanks for calling our attention to this link.
    Organaholic, organaholic.com

  • Anthro

    HFCS? Corn sugar?

    Does it make any difference or “six of one, half dozen of the other” as my mother used to say.

    Everyone makes good points here today, except for Doug who thinks that things are processed “very differently in our bodies”.

    I avoid HFCS because its made from corn, which I think is way too ubiquitous in our food supply, and I will continue to avoid it if it becomes “corn sugar”. But I use so little processed food that my habits are hardly likely to threaten the corn-as-food industry. It does bother me, though, that people avoid HFCS because they think it harms their bodies more than, say…cane sugar, or agave nectar, or…..whatever.

  • Andrew

    My issue with “corn sugar” is the sugar part. For a product to list sugar in the label it has to be sucrose. If sucrose is being produced from corn(which it’s not) then go ahead and call it corn sugar. hydrolyzing starch into glucose and then further isomerizing it into fructose to increase the relative sweetness is not the same as sucrose.

  • http://www.anamariaquispe.wordpress.com Ana Maria Quispe

    The issue here should be how that sugar is made, regardless of the name, still will be made from GMO corn, and good nutritionists that are concern with the environment can possibly made this horrible ingredient part of anyone diet.
    Will the FDA hear the public?, after the approval of 3 new GMO crops I don’t think so. The only power is left for us is in the cash register

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne_garrett Suzanne

    A 2010 study by Princeton University found that consumption of HFCS leads to abdominal fat gain and an increase in triglycerides among rats.

    From the study:

    “In results published online Feb. 26 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity. …

    Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.”

    This study was funded by the U.S. Public Health Service.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne_garrett Suzanne

    Thank you, Rosanne Rust, for your transparency in noting your affiliation with the Corn Refiner’s Association. Yours is a rare tell for this blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/suzanne_garrett Suzanne

    Link to Princeton study in my previous post:

    http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/

  • Roxanne Rieske

    HFCS is the LEAST environmentally friendly sweetener on the market. Take that back to your employers Ms. Rust. It takes incredible amounts of energy to produce HFCS. Not to mention that corn is so heavily subsided to make it artificially cheap that it is killing this country’s family farming tradition and seriously threatening bio-diversity in agriculture. THIS is why I refuse to buy products containing HFCS, and if it’s changed to corn sugar, I’ll still refuse to buy it. HFCS is evil, not so much in the nutritional sense (even though is used in THOUSANDS of products which causes people to unconsciously consume more sugar), but in the environmental sense, which the Corn Refiner’s Association seems totally unconcerned with.

  • fuzzy

    If they change HFCS to corn sugar I’ll stop buying any product with “corn sugar” listed on the label. Period. I don’t really like your GMO corn anyway, you know, the kind that humans can’t eat until it’s processed?

    What we need to do is stop the government corn subsidies in this country. Why should the tax payers subsidize a major profitable agri-business industry? It’s one of the great hypocritical moments of the republican party that they’ll support corn and sugar industries, totally against the principles of free enterprise and corporate freedom.

    Stop adding empty calories to our food. There is a reason we grew 80% of our own produce last year, and refuse to buy most processed food, and buy 98% of our meat from sources in our own state where we’re allowed to visit the farms and know who the slaughterer is.

  • William Armstrong

    Roxanne Rieske

    You are extremely wrong when you say “many people think that it’s “poison”, and it’s not. I’m a nutrition consultant”

    As a “Nutrition Consultant” you should be aware that approximately 1 in 25,000 people in the world are genetically Fructose intolerant (known as HFI).

    For these people, and I am one, your HFCS product is most definitely a Poison it destroys our livers and kidneys and eventually if not controlled it kills us!

    Already there is a high degree of confusion regarding what contains Fructose and what dose not. I am advising a young mother in Florida who’s HFI baby was being given a Formula milk that contains HFCS as recommended by her Doctor!

    The little lad has a very fatty liver and we are still not sure if we got him off the formula milk in time.

    Changing the name will only cause more problems and confusion, illnesses and yes deaths.

    I vote for keeping the current name.

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  • Amar

    The opportunity to submit your comment on this petition is still open (as of 3/7/11 at 10 PM PT).

    I took the liberty to quote you in support of my objection to this petition. Thank you for providing some solid points!

  • http://gfpumpkins.wordpress.com Alissa

    While I might be a little late in reading this, thank you. For the first time ever I was moved to write the FDA about an issue I feel is important. Keep up the good work!

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  • William Armstrong

    I am not alone in calling Fructose a poison!

    Dr Robert H Lustig of UCSF has a lecture on the metabolism of Fructose in the human body.

    Apparently Fructose is handled in the liver EXACTLY like alcohol and it causes exactly the same damage weight for weight!

    Watch the video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

  • Jane

    I’m totally against the change. I feel like it’s completely obvious that the producers of HFCS want any of their lost sales back and it’ll take awhile for people to realize that corn sugar = hfcs. Also, last I checked this name change wasn’t approved and yet I definitely saw corn sugar as an ingredient in Tostito’s hint of lime tortilla chips. I was completely shocked. How is that allowed/possible?!

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