by Marion Nestle
Apr 14 2011

Lobbying in action: HFCS

It’s fun to watch lobbying in action, especially when it is so overt.  I’ve just been sent a copy of this “Dear Colleague” letter organized by the Corn Refiners’ Association.  The letter comes from two members of Congress.  It asks other members of Congress to write the FDA to change the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup to Corn Sugar.

From the Corn Refiners:

Dear [Member of Congress],

As your Member’s district has a strong interest in corn or corn sweetener, I am sending you this Dear Colleague letter for your consideration. Representatives Tom Latham and Daniel Lipinksi are circulating the letter, pasted below, for your boss’ consideration. The Corn Refiners Association, with support from the National Corn Growers Association has petitioned the FDA to allow use of the name ‘corn sugar’ as an alternative to High Fructose Corn Syrup on ingredient labels. This letter outlines our support for this petition.

From Representatives Tom Latham (Rep–Iowa) and Daniel Lipinski (Dem–Illinois):

Dear [FDA] Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg,

We write to express our support for a petition to use “corn sugar” as an alternate name for high fructose corn syrup on ingredient labels that would help consumers avoid confusion about the foods they buy. We endorse prompt review and approval of petition FDA-2010-P-0491, which was submitted by the Corn Refiners Association.

The petition requests the term “corn sugar” be permitted as an optional name for high fructose corn syrup on ingredient labels to avoid customer misconceptions. Evidence suggests that current terminology encourages misunderstanding in the marketplace regarding the nutritional profile and composition of corn sweeteners, and the alternate name would help dispel some of the confusion. According to a recent nationwide MSR Group survey, around 70 percent of Americans surveyed could not correctly identify high fructose corn syrup when presented with the American Dietetic Association’s definition. The same research found that “corn sugar” is a better alternative because it gives consumers a more accurate understanding of the product’s fructose content, calories and sweetness.

The product used in most foods—including yogurts, baked goods, condiments, and salad dressings—actually has the lowest fructose content of any sweetener on the market. Despite this fact, MSR Group’s research showed that most Americans believe high fructose corn syrup to be higher in fructose than table sugar; misinformation perpetuated by the substance’s name.

High fructose corn syrup is made from corn grown here in the United States by a critical industry that provides Americans thousands of good jobs. Equally important, it enables American consumers greater choice and affordability at the grocery store. Unfortunately, significant misperceptions about this ingredient have circulated in the media, in large part due to its name.

The American Medical Association has indicated that sugar and high fructose corn syrup have similar compositions, while the American Dietetic Association has determined that these two sweeteners are nutritionally equivalent and indistinguishable to the human body. These facts are sometimes lost in the confusion surrounding the ingredient’s name, and we believe that allowing use of the alternate term, “corn sugar,” would allow consumers to make accurate decisions about added sugars in their diets.

We support expeditious review and approval of this petition.

If enough members of Congress write such letters, the FDA is likely to pay attention, no?









  • Let’s compromise: I will support changing the name to “corn sugar” if it is coupled with “genetically modified.”

  • Junk by another name….still junk. I’m guessing a reprint of Taubes’ NYT Mag article will not be included in the press pack…

  • “it enables American consumers greater choice and affordability at the grocery store.”

    Sigh. Heaven forbid if Coke and Pepsi aren’t affordable!

  • DEPLORABLE!!!!!!!
    The Corn Refiner’s Association is the new Big Tobacco. Consumers don’t stand a chance.

    And last year weren’t tests done on sodas that determined that most products containing HFCS contained as much as 55-65% fructose to glucose? Isn’t that significantly higher than the even ratio of sucrose?

  • Daniel K. Ithaca, NY

    brilliant, problem solved:

    “I will support changing the name to “corn sugar” if it is coupled with “genetically modified.”

  • Anthro

    While it is a shabby attempt to only further confuse the issue (or non-issue), I am more concerned about the insatiable need to sweeten everything from yogurt to salad dressing–both of which I make myself and eat without any sweetener–horrors! It bugs me to see HFCS in bread, too–I make mine from sourdough starter with no sweetener at all. I started the starter from 1/2 cup of flour and some water! If I want sweet bread, I put a bit of jam on it.

    By the way, who named the stuff anyway? Is it, or isn’t it HIGH fructose?

    Where can one get a scientific, non-special-interest discussion of HFCS (I will check the right hand column!)?

  • Jim

    Is it true that HFCS has “has the lowest fructose content of any sweetener on the market”?

  • KD

    To Jim, from HFCS website:

    What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
    (from Corn Refiners Association at
    High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn and can be found in numerous foods and beverages on grocery store shelves in the United States. Contrary to its name, HFCS is not high in fructose. At the time HFCS was developed, the only sweetener in all other corn syrups was glucose; none contained fructose. So the name “high” fructose corn syrup, in comparative terms, makes sense and is entirely appropriate. But when compared to table sugar (sucrose), HFCS is not at all “high” in fructose. In fact, HFCS is nearly identical in composition to table sugar (sucrose), which is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS is composed of either 42 percent or 55 percent fructose, with the remaining sugars being primarily glucose and some higher sugars. HFCS is used in foods and beverages because of the many benefits it offers. In addition to providing sweetness at a level equivalent to table sugar, HFCS makes foods such as bread and breakfast cereal “brown” better when baked, and gives chewy cookies and snack bars their soft texture. It also protects freshness. HFCS actually inhibits microbial spoilage by reducing water activity and extends shelf life through superior moisture control.
    What is the difference between HFCS and table sugar?
    From the perspective of the human body, there is very little difference between table sugar (sucrose) and HFCS. Sucrose and HFCS have the same caloric density as most carbohydrates; both contribute 4 calories per gram. In terms of chemical structure, sucrose and HFCS differ by the bonding of their sugars. Sucrose is a disaccharide, in which fructose and glucose are linked by a chemical bond. (3) Fructose and glucose are not bonded in HFCS, and so are sometimes referred to as “free” sugars. Once the combination of glucose and fructose found in HFCS and sucrose are absorbed into the blood stream, the two types of sweetener appear to be metabolized similarly using well-characterized metabolic pathways.
    Sucrose and HFCS contain nearly the same one-to-one ratio of two sugars – fructose and glucose:
    Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.
    HFCS is sold principally in two formulations – 42 percent and 55 percent fructose – with the balance made up of primarily glucose and some higher sugars.

  • KD

    agree with previous post… sigh

    “…would allow consumers to make accurate decisions about added sugars in their diets.”

    implying that they consumers will be more likely to add sugars to their foods if the name is changed to corn sugar… great move for the American public… that is just what we need.

  • Jim

    Well, except that you didn’t answer the question.

    I know the chemical composition of both sugar and HFCS.

    But, clearly if HFCS can (and often does) have 55% fructose, and sugar is only ever 50%, then HFCS has more fructose and the claim is false.

    So I guess my question is really what “other sweeteners” are they comparing their product to? Because it’s obviously not sugar.

  • raman

    Since the 1920s(!), the corn industry wanted to label the product “corn sugar” or “corn syrup”, instead of “dextrose”, as the law then required.

    Some of congressional testimony may be found here:

  • Cathy Richards

    Here was my submission to the FDA back in March:

    I oppose the proposition to allow the renaming of HFCS to corn sugar.

    There are many types of sugars in our food supply. Unless they come from beet or cane sugar, all are required to specify what kind of sugar they are: honey, molasses, maple syrup, agave syrup, fructose, lactose, sucrose, etc.

    This not only provides the consumer with the type of sugar in the product, it also provides them with a bit of background as to how the manufacturer makes its product. Using honey implicates the sugar is more “naturally” sourced, using HFCS inplicates the sugar is sourced from a complex manufacturing process. This second bit of insight into the product may be of interest for consumers who want to support certain types of food production.

    From a health professionals point of view, knowing the source of the sugar may provide us with some idea as to how it might affect glycemic index, or which pathway of metabolism it is likely to use. Although these sciences are not yet well defined or understood, it is highly likely they will be in the near future. As obesity continues its catastrophic march through our bodies, and causes insulin sensitivity vs fatty liver, these pieces of information could potentially have implications for patient care.

    Regardless of these consumer vs. health considerations, there remains the specious logic for this name change request. It is for marketing purposes alone, to make consumers feel better about consuming “corn sugar”.
    This presents a gain to the manufacturers and corn growers only, and does not provide a gain to the consumer.

    Consuming more “corn sugar” is not in the interest of the consumer, or the government, nor of businesses who will bear the burden of increasing sick days and disability payments.

    Unless there is a better reason to change the name other than to boost HFCS’s image, please do not allow this change. If you do, then let’s allow lactose to be milk sugar, honey to be flower sugar, maple syrup ‘tree sugar’.

  • KD

    To Jim-
    I think this is what they were implying (the last part of the post above):

    The original letter states:
    “The product used in most foods—including yogurts, baked goods, condiments, and salad dressings—actually has the lowest fructose content of any sweetener on the market.”

    Their website states:

    “Sucrose is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose.
    HFCS is sold principally in two formulations – 42 percent and 55 percent fructose – with the balance made up of primarily glucose and some higher sugars.”

    Perhaps they were implying that the 42% HFCS is used more often that the 55% HFCS. That would be lowered than sucrose.

  • Cathy Richards

    It doesn’t matter what per cent fructose HFCS is!! It’s not corn sugar!!!!! Corn sugar would come from cooking the corn kernel down and extracting the actual sugars in the kernel.

    Here is how HFCS is made (from wiki), it’s a bit more complicated than getting sugar from sugar cane or beets. Just a bit!!!!:

    1.Cornstarch is treated with alpha-amylase to produce shorter chains of sugars called oligosaccharides.
    2.Glucoamylase – which is produced by Aspergillus, species of mold, in a fermentation vat — breaks the sugar chains down even further to yield the simple sugar glucose.
    3.Xylose isomerase (aka glucose isomerase) converts glucose to a mixture of about 42% fructose and 50–52% glucose with some other sugars mixed in.
    While inexpensive alpha-amylase and glucoamylase are added directly to the slurry and used only once, the more costly xylose-isomerase is packed into columns and the sugar mixture is then passed over it, allowing it to be used repeatedly until it loses its activity. This 42–43% fructose glucose mixture is then subjected to a liquid chromatography step, where the fructose is enriched to about 90%. The 90% fructose is then back-blended with 42% fructose to achieve a 55% fructose final product. Most manufacturers use carbon adsorption for impurity removal. Numerous filtration, ion-exchange and evaporation steps are also part of the overall process

  • Suzanne

    Thank you Cathy Richards! Do you have a blog or Facebook page? I would like to read more of your writing.

  • Cathy Richards

    @Suzanne — thanks! No blog, not yet, maybe when I retire…I used to have a weekly newspaper column in BC that was pretty populat, but that was pre-internet… Some people have posted my stuff so if you googled my name +Kelowna you might find some ancient etchings 🙂

    I comment lots on Marion’s blog though!

  • John

    HFCS should be banned all together. Since HFCS has been used we have seen an increase in diabetes in this country. Some thirty years later we are reaching epidemic levels. I heard that in the next ten years one half of the U.S. population will be diabetic or pre-diabetic. Almost everything we eat or drink has HFCS. I have written almot every major compny that uses HFCS, and their response was to use HFCS in moderation. Kind of hard to do if HFCS is in almost every product. It is all about money, these companies should be out for our best interests and they are not. Some companies are slowly changing and removing HFCS. These are the products that I buy. We all need to write Congress and instead of changing the name of HFCS it should be officially banned from all food products.

  • Shea

    Cathy – That’s Exactly why I’m against HFCS.

    I am a firm believer that our bodies are healthier when we eat whole, minimally processed foods. HFCS is a highly processed food that, in my opinion (and I have no evidence to support this), our bodies don’t necessarily know how to use. When we break things apart and add other stuff back in, we’re changing things on a molecular level. Perhaps our bodies metabolize it the same as whole foods, but I think our bodies can tell the difference, the little nuances that we don’t see. Like the fact that the fructose and glucose aren’t bonded in HFCS and are in sucrose. People have the right to know how processed their food is.

    And as far as “help[ing] consumers avoid confusion about the foods they buy”, how is adding a new name to nutrition labels going to help us avoid confusion? MSG is a great example of this, I think. MSG is a chemical additive I think used to help preserve food and as a flavoring. I know I myself am minorly allergic to it. It doesn’t have to be “mono-sodium glutamate” on the label though. It might also be masquerading as “spices” or “artificial flavoring”. If I’m trying to avoid MSG, this just makes it all the harder to determine what it is I’m avoiding, and possibly not getting foods that don’t actually contain MSG. If I’m similarly trying to avoid HFCS, and some labels call it “high fructose corn syrup” and others call it “corn sugar”, how does that eliminate confusion? Sounds like it would add confusion!

    Lastly, it’s a friggin’ syrup! Every “sugar” I’ve come across is in granular form. HFCS is in syrup (liquid) form! Why call it something it isn’t? It isn’t in granular, sugar form. It’s in liquid, syrup form. If you have to call is something other than HFCS, then call it simply “corn syrup”. Oh wait, that’s a different product altogether! Huh, maybe they should just use that!!

  • Jo

    Interesting, Jim. So tell me why my kidney stone diet instruction booklet printed by the Mayo Clinic specifically states, “Research shows that high fructose corn syrup increases the risk for developing kidney stones. To help you avoid high fructose corn syrup, look for it listed on the ingredients list of food labels.”

    No HFCS in our household, thank you very much.

  • lisa

    I say remove HFCS out of everything, return to straight sugar and see what happens to our population over the next ten to 20 years. We watched and seen what’s happened over the past forty year as sugar was removed and HFCS was added. Time to see what happens if we return to how things were. Other comment:i tried regular pepsi (with HFCS) and just tried Pepsi ‘throwback’…let me tell you, Pepsi throwback was a completely different taste. It took me back to the 70’s. Hey, there’s another experiment: the old “taste test” HFCS vs Sugar. Now, we’d really see who can tell the difference.

  • Darryl B. Lawton

    They can change the name, change the face, change the words all they want to, but they can not change the facts! The fact is that many people are onto HFCS, and they know it! Why else would they want to change the name?
    They are almost comical in their deceptions, these politicians…… almost like a little kid caught in the act of stealing candy from the candy jar, and then saying, “It’s empty” when they realize they are caught.
    The fact is that I know for a fact that HFCS is UNHEALTHY, and when I shop, I look for products that DO NOT have HFCS! If more people will do the same, and their cheap unhealthy food just sits there, not being sold, they might get the point!
    One BIG offender in the HFCS lines of products is jams and jellies! Have you ever tried to find jams and jellies that do not contain HFCS? It is hard, but not impossible……. I simply DO NOT buy food with High Fructose Corn Syrup, and if they change the name, I WILL NOT buy food with CORN SUGAR in it! Let them consider that. Perhaps they can petition the FDA and other crooked government agencies to allow them to FORCE people to use it.

  • what a Joke !!! These jerks have known HFCS is poison to the human body and even corn meal that is fed to cattle.
    When will the FDA and the AMA come out on the side of the human body instead of the corporate poisoners? We need to get back to farming and not manufacturing food !!!

  • Lance

    People! I am a chemist and you well-intentioned and informed folks are falling for a major misconception that the corn refiners want you to fall for. Sugar, or sucrose, contains fructose BOUND to glucose in one molecule. HFCS is a MIXTURE of fructose and glucose (and some higher (i.e. larger) sugars) as separate molecules. The body treats different molecules differently, and HFCS is not at all like “sugar” even if it is 50% fructose.

  • PLS TAKE NOTICE: if the american public chooses to remain ignorant and go through life with their heads up their bottom end buns and continues to struggle with obesity, et al., then i guess that’s their choice……as “the choice is always ours”; however, having done my level best to totally avoid this crap currently n/k/a HFCS, et al., in all posible forms, names, etc., and to “enlighten” those who wail and/or lament about being unable to lose weight and are advised to read about this poisons’ detriments and/or harmful effects on the web, then i guess they “deserve” to remain obese and/or overweight, hypoglycemic, et al. Basta, nuff said!! Grazzi multo. Ciao…!