Consumer group steps into corn sweetener naming debate


As any successful broadcaster knows, branding is a key element of the advertising business, and advertising is a key element of the broadcasting business. That is why it should not come as a surprise that a battle is being waged as to what to properly call sweeteners extracted from corn.

The National Consumers League is attacking efforts by corn refiners to have the name of high fructose corn syrup changed to corn sugar. The HFCS label was adopted by the FDA in 1983, meaning consumers have had almost 30 years to get used to it. NCL believes changing it now will only cause confusion.

It also objects because it believes the industry is trying to duck the negative publicity that has attached to HFCS in recent years through the simple expedient of changing its name.

“Regardless of where you stand on the debate over High Fructose Corn Syrup and its effects on our waistlines and our health, changing the name after decades of use is unfair to consumers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “Consumers are familiar with HFCS, they know how to find it on Nutrition Facts labels, and they deserve consistency so they can continue to make purchasing decisions.”

Greenberg concluded, “The FDA should not play spin doctor for the corn refining industry or shield food companies who use the ingredient from the impact of emerging scientific evidence or from consumer preferences. Just as it would be premature to conclude that HFCS is harmful to health, an official name change could frustrate further scientific study and confuse or irritate consumers. Should it turn out that HFCS does contribute to obesity or other adverse health outcomes, a regulatory decision allowing manufacturers to hide this ingredient from consumers could come back to haunt FDA.”

RBR-TVBR observation: We are not experts on this, but we happen to have friends who just happen to work for the FDA. What they once told us is that the dietary concerns that should be sparked by high fructose corn syrup or corn sugar, whatever one chooses to call it, are essentially the same concerns one should have concerning any other kind of sugar. Note that it was their personal rather than scientific opinion.

If that’s true, then putting HFCS on an equal footing with other more-or-less interchangeable products would seem to help consumers make an informed choice.

In fact, we always thought somewhat the opposite of what NCL is claiming. Rather than consumers being right on top of what HFCS really is, we always thought it was a way that manufacturers could actually hide the true sugar content of their products.

We don’t really have a strong opinion on this one way or the other, but we think NCL’s claim is highly debatable, and further think that the corn industry’s wish to change the name may actually benefit consumers, too.