by Marion Nestle
May 31 2012

FDA says HFCS is HFCS; it is not corn sugar

Cheers to the FDA.  It just said a firm no to the Corn Refiners’ petition to be allowed to call High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) “corn sugar.”

The FDA’ s rationale:

  • Sugar is solid, dried, and crystallized.  Syrup is liquid.  HFCS is liquid.  Therefore, it is syrup, not sugar.
  • Corn sugar already has a regulatory definition: dextrose (glucose).  HFCS contains fructose as well as glucose.  Therefore, it is not corn sugar.

As I mentioned earlier, I filed comments to the FDA on the Corn Refiners’ petition:

The [Corn Refiners'] 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.

…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.

I was referring here to the legal and public relations wrangling between the Sugar Association, which represents the growers of cane and beet sugar (sucrose), and the Corn Refiners.

I have complained previously about the in-your-face behavior of the Corn Refiners in attempting to protect its share of the sweetener market: its strange advertisements; its use of my quotes (they told me the quotes are in the public domain and if I don’t like it I can sue them); its aggressive lobbying; its stated intention to use the term “corn sugar” whether the FDA approves it or not.

The Sugar Association’s behavior is not much better.  It has taken the Corn Refiners to court over the naming issue.

I was amused to receive two e-mails this week from its public relations firm complaining about the Corn Refiners’ clumsy PR response to a UCLA  study ostensibly showing that HFCS makes rats “fat and stupid.”  This study, however, did not compare the effects of sucrose and HFCS and its results, even if confirmed, could apply to any source of fructose.

The second e-mail sent links to the FDA’s decision and the Sugar Association’s response.

The FDA’s ruling represents a victory for American consumers,” said Dan Callister, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation. “It reaffirms what most consumer advocates, health experts and policy officials have been saying all along: only sugar is sugar. HFCS is not sugar. The next step is for the federal court to end the CRA’s misleading propaganda campaign.

Sugars, plural, are sugars.  Sucrose is glucose and fructose.  So is HFCS.

Everyone would be better off eating a lot less of both.

And that brings me to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest attempt to promote the health of his constituents: banning any sugary drink larger than 16 ounces from restaurants, movie theaters, and street carts.

I can’t wait to see how the Beverage Association deals with this one.

Addition June 1: Rosie Mestel of the L.A. Times has an excellent account of this in which she quotes from these comments.  Her story is accompanied by a PR photo from the Corn Refiners Association.  What are these people thinking?

Ad campaign by the Corn Refiners Assn.


[...] to rename high fructose corn syrup the more innocuous-sounding “corn sugar.”  More on that development from Marion Nestle at Food [...]

  • Phocion Timon
  • May 31, 2012
  • 11:33 am

Glory days! Imagine, common sense from the government. Wow.

  • Anthro
  • May 31, 2012
  • 3:21 pm

Hooray for the FDA! First the POM case and now the Corn Refiners–it’s good to see them being active.

And good for the Mayor as well. To those who cry “nanny state”, I say, it’s about time! Someone has to get after those who put profit above public health and too many parents have already been corrupted by the ad industry themselves. Bring on the nannies!

  • Kyle
  • May 31, 2012
  • 3:40 pm

The only ones who will benefit from that banning is the businesses, who now sell more drinks at a higher price.

[...] give their kids minimally processed foods without added sugar, is best expressed by food scientist Marion Nestle: “Sugars, plural, are sugars…Everyone would be better off eating a lot less of [...]

  • Crider
  • May 31, 2012
  • 6:34 pm

Good thing it wasn’t the USDA’s decision to make — they would have easily done what the big corn companies told them to do!

[...] are some shrewd remarksby Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of a blog called Food [...]

[...] FDA says HFCS is HFCS; it is not corn sugar (Food Politics) [...]

[...] are some shrewd remarksby Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University and author of a blog called Food [...]

[...] Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, approves of the FDA’s decision. Nestle says that “the name change is not in the public interest. Its only purpose is to further the [...]

[...] The FDA rejected a request from the Corn Refiner’s Association to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to corn sugar. The CRA has been promoting their effort through commercials which claim HFCS is processed the same way in the body as regular sugar, attempting to erase HFCS’s bad reputation. The FDA, however, rightly believes that changing the name would confuse consumers and potentially mislead them into believing sugar and HFCS are equals. [Food Politics] [...]

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