by Marion Nestle
Sep 14 2010

Corn Refiners ask FDA to replace “HFCS” with “Corn Sugar”

The Corn Refiners Association is asking the FDA to allow a change in the name of their embattled sweetener from High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to Corn Sugar.

Of course they want this change.  HFCS is the new trans fat.  Everyone thinks HFCS is poison.

For the record once again, HFCS is not poison.  It is just a mixture of glucose and fructose in almost the same proportions as table sugar, sucrose.

Mind you, I am not fond of the idea that Americans use 60 pounds of corn sweeteners per capita per year and another 60 pounds of table sugar, and I am not particularly eager to help the Corn Refiners sell more of their stuff.

But you can understand the Corn Refiners’ pain: food companies are getting rid of HFCS as fast as they can and replacing it with table sugar.

This move is driven not only by bad press, but also by the fact that the price differential has all but disappeared.  HFCS started out at one-third the cost of table sugar.  Growing corn to make alcohol changed all that.

Let’s give the Corn Refiners credit for calling a sugar a sugar.  I would prefer Corn Sugars (plural) to indicate that it is a mixture of glucose and fructose.  But as long as they don’t call it “natural,” the change is OK with me.

But I’m wondering if it’s too late.  Maybe anything with the word “corn” in it will be enough to turn people off?  According to the Associated Press, the Corn Refiners are already using Corn Sugar in their advertising, so we will soon find out.

Your thoughts?

Additional historical note: Thanks to a reader,, who is evidently a fount of information about such things, for this enlightening tidbit:

In the early 1900s, what we call “corn syrup” was sold as “glucose,” the chemical name for the type of sugar derived from corn starches. Food reformers pointed to the “glucose” in candy and claimed that candy was poisoned with “glue.”  So the corn producers lobbied to have “glucose” renamed “corn syrup.” Sounds like we’re coming around again full circle…now “corn syrup” is poison!

Updates, September 15: Tara Parker-Pope writes about this in the New York Times (and quotes me).  So does Michele Simon on her blog.  As usual, Simon says it like it is:

As a result of this demonizing, we are now in the ridiculous situation where food companies are falling over each other to remove HFCS from their products, slap on a natural label, and get brownie points for helping Americans eat better….Only Big Food would find a way to make a product full of refined white sugar (which at one time was also demonized) seem like a healthy alternative. It’s like I always say, the food industry is very good at taking criticism and turning it into a marketing opportunity.

How, I wonder, will the Corn Refiners manage this one?  Not so easily, judging from readers’ comments.

Update, September 16: reports that more than half of Americans surveyed will not buy products with HFCS.  Market researchers are advising food companies to get rid of it.

  • Pete

    @ Karen

    The #1 culprit for obesity is the low fat, high carb FDA recommendation. The response to this by Food companies (albeit unanticipated) was to load up on sugar and chemicals to cover up the missing fat. Just look at the jean sizes in the 70s. Damn people were skinny. And bacon & eggs was the breakfast of choice. Coincidence?

    HFCS is a whole ‘nother evil.

  • Sean Yannell

    When I read a piece in Salon today (and led me here) I wondered if HFCS is becoming the next MSG: the thing that everyone has an “I read that it’s bad for you, so I’m cutting it out” story.

    I remember back when MSG was the bad buzzword hearing someone say “It’s MONO sodium glutamate….shouldn’t that be BETTER for you than just plain Sodium?”

    Thanks for contributing to my learning process. I’ve bookmarked the blog. =)

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  • Marisa

    The difference in the fructose/glucose ratio for HFCS and regular sugar can make a huge difference. A close friend of mine cannot consume HFCS or his kidneys start shutting down, but he has no problem with regular sugar in his soda.

  • I disagree with HFCS being re-branded as “corn sugar” for the very simple reason that consumers are, once again, being duped by a clever switcharoo from the marketing department.

    Much like GMAC re-branded itself as “Ally Bank” or shell shock (e.g. battle fatigue) was re-branded as post traumatic stress disorder, we have this insidious need to slowly dilute the power of words by changing the nomenclature when the spreadsheets show that consumers have clearly made their selection known.

    After all, consumers vote with their money, and even if the corn refiners manage to pull this one off, it’s only going to illicit further disdain for their product and give another reason for Food Inc. Chapter II.

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  • Daniel K. Ithaca, NY

    Perhaps HFCS should have been called Corn SugarS from the beginning. I disagree with the rebranding. Trying a Blackwater-“Xe” type-name switching strategy to confuse the public into thinking that HFCS suddenly has changed its formula and is healthier or that it is a completely different sweetener isn’t beneficial to anyone except Industrial Food stakeholders.

    Doesn’t this just confuse the issue of “What to Eat”?
    According to a Consumer Affairs Specialist at the FDA, as of 9/16, “we have not yet been able to confirm receipt of this petition…” [regarding this prospective name change].

  • @Pete…I grew up in the 70’s, and we weren’t eating bacon and eggs for breakfast. We ate toast or cereal.

    People are obese because they are eating too much of everything. Meals out, HFCS, fried foods, no vegetables, too much soda. The calories in a small burger and fries and 8 oz soda vs. Big Mac, Large Fries, and 24 oz soda.

    We ate the skin on our fried chicken, but we only had fried chicken once a month. And we only got one piece.

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  • Shannon

    Maybe we should call it genetically modified corn sugar? The fact that it’s a sweetener is not as much a problem as the fact that HFCS is made primarily from GM corn. It’s franken foods that are killing us not sugar!

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  • ArC

    “HFCS started out at one-third the cost of table sugar. ”

    Even that state of affairs was not natural, but due to corn subsidies and tariffs on imported sugar.

  • fuzzy

    Why don’t we make them label everything with fructose 20%, glucose 15%, sucrose 10%?

    Why don’t we make them label “uses ingredients made from genetically modified corn” “genetically modified soybeans”, etc?

    I’m not scientifically sure that HFCS hurts me *because* it is HFCS, but I certainly react to *something* in it, because since I’ve cut eating any products with added HFCS, I get a strong icky logy feeling whenever I eat processed foods with it.

    What we *should* be fussing about the most on this topic is how many things it gets added to where it is completely unnecessary, we don’t need any empty calories added to food products just to satiate the food marketing people.

    Take control of your own life. Stop buying conventional processed foods. Convert your grass yard into garden space. Ask where your meat comes from, where your vegetables come from, where your fish comes from. Educate yourself, think, and don’t rely on the kindness of strangers.

  • glen

    The FDA already has a standard for corn sugar:


    The section above reads, in part:
    Sec. 184.1857 Corn sugar.
    (a) Corn sugar (C6H12O6, CAS Reg. No. 50-99-7), commonly called D-glucose or dextrose, is the chemical[alpha]-D-glucopyranose.

    I expect that the FDA will bow to the corporate will, and change the previous marketing effort to

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  • Karen G

    HFCS tastes different to me than sucrose. It makes things sweet — too sweet. For instance, I can drink a soda made with cane sugar, but a soda made with HFCS makes me feel like my throat is clogged and I need to drink a gallon of water. We can argue whether HFCS is “natural” all we want, but just because something is natural does not mean it’s good for us, especially in the kinds of quantities that it is put into our foods. HFCS is in foods that it has no business being put in — yogurt, for example. UGH! Caveat emptor!

  • This article totally omits the latest studies revealing HFCS is almost universally contaminated with heavy metal mercury. Most people don’t know how high-fructose corn syrup is really made. One of those processes is a bizarre chemical brew involving the creation of caustic soda by exposing raw materials to pools of electrified mercury in a large vat. Through this process, the caustic soda gets contaminated with mercury, and when corn kernels are exposed to this caustic soda to break them down, that contamination is passed through to the HFCS.

    And then there is the fact most corn in the USA is GMO – read up on that.

    All of this makes me wonder if Dr. Nestle is related to that evil corporation of the same name?

  • Amy Nurse

    You will never convince the public HFCS is “the same” as sugar. You will NEVER see a video of HOW this chemical is made, WHY? because you would vomit! The chemistry involved in making this poison is so complicated even if you wanted to “homemake” it you couldn’t!!

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  • This corn sugar is a larger issue then most people think. Everyone who hears Corn Syrup or Corn sugar feel that elimating those items will actually eliminate their corn consumption.
    Sadly that is very untrue. I run a website geared for the people who are allergic to corn. We suffer from anything that was derivied from corn, citric acid, dextrose, ethanol, all medications over the counter, prescribed or IV emergency medical.
    The amount of corn derived ingredients cause a major health risk for a growing population. IF you suffer a belly ache from corn syrup you may have more of an issue then you think.

    Good luck with avoiding the small things, look into the even smaller corn things, like your iodized table salt which is coated with dextrose to keep the iodine adheared to the crystals.


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