WASHINGTON — The Sugar Association has advised the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reject a pending request to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to corn sugar. In 15 pages of comments, the association argued the proposed name change would mislead consumers and cited consumer research and a study published on-line Dec. 5 in the scientific journal Metabolism.
The Corn Refiners Association, a trade association representing the U.S. corn refining (wet milling) industry, petitioned the F.D.A. for the HFCS name change in September of 2010. The C.R.A. said the name high-fructose corn syrup confuses consumers because it is not high in fructose when compared with other common sweeteners such as table sugar, honey and fruit juice concentrates.
The Sugar Association, in contrast, said a recent survey showed changing the name of high-fructose corn syrup would mislead consumers. The survey was conducted by Joel B. Cohen, who previously was commissioned to conduct consumer research for the Federal Trade Commission and professional organizations, according to the Sugar Association.
The survey involved 610 interviews conducted in September with men and women age 18 and older. It found the “corn sugar” name caused consumers to believe the ingredient was something other than HFCS. It also found when consumers were made to understand the new name actually referred to HFCS, they said it would not change their preference to avoid HFCS.
Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, responded, “The survey did not measure whether consumers understand that HFCS is a sugar. Instead, it purports to examine whether changing the name of HFCS to corn sugar on labels would ‘reduce consumer misperceptions about HFCS.’“
The survey did not address the misperceptions, and addressing these misperceptions is the key to clearing up consumer confusion, according to the Corn Refiners Association.
For the study published in Metabolism, scientific departments at the University of Florida and the University of Colorado, Denver, studied whether there were differences in human absorption and metabolism of HFCS compared with sugar. Forty men and women consumed 24 oz of soft drinks sweetened with either HFCS or cane sugar (sucrose) in a randomized crossover design study. The beverage sweetened with HFCS contained 39.2 grams of fructose and 28.8 grams of glucose. The beverage sweetened with sucrose contained 34.6 grams of fructose and 34.8 grams of glucose.
Blood and urine samples were collected over six hours. Blood pressure, heart rate, fructose and a variety of other metabolic biomarkers were measured. Compared with sucrose, HFCS leads to greater fructose systemic exposure and significantly different acute metabolic effects, according to the study’s findings.
“The Metabolism study confirms that the human body experiences significantly different acute metabolic effects from the consumption of HFCS when compared to sugar,” said Andy Briscoe, president and chief executive officer of the Sugar Association. “This research builds on earlier animal studies suggesting that HFCS and sucrose can have different effects on body weight and obesigenic measures. The F.D.A. should accordingly reject the proposed name change in the best interest of consumers’ health and their right to know.”
The Corn Refiners Association responded that the study was inconclusive.
“This study does not compare high-fructose corn syrup to sugar made from cane and beets, and it did not use real-life diets as a model,” Ms. Erickson said. “In fact, the authors noted that the sugar, or sucrose, had ‘broken down’ into the very same sugar compounds contained in HFCS. The study is also inconsistent with the great weight of scientific authority showing the nutritional and metabolic equivalence of HFCS and sucrose.”
The Corn Refiners Association lists studies and reviews about HFCS at the www.sweetsurprise.com web site.