For several years, the fight over “natural” sweeteners has pitted consumer advocates vs. food processors and association vs. association.This summer, the Food and Drug Administration awarded a round to corn sweetener processors by declaring it would not object to the use of the term “natural” on a product containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) produced using enzymatic conversion columns.

Corn syrup processors have long argued that HFCS contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets FDA’s requirement for the use of the term natural.“HFCS, like table sugar and honey, is natural,” said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA).“It is made from corn, a natural grain product.”

In a July 3 letter to CRA from the labeling office within FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, the agency said it takes a case-by-case approach to determine whether an ingredient would qualify for use of the term “natural” and that enzymatically converted HFCS corn syrup would qualify.

The letter laid out FDA’s approach to the term natural, noting that “our longstanding policy on the use of the term ‘natural’ is that ‘natural’ means nothing artificial (including artificial flavors) or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in or has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food. Additionally, we stated that we do not restrict the use of the term ‘natural’ except on products that contain added color, synthetic substances and flavors as provided for in 21 CFR §101.22.”