What's in a name? The National Consumers League (NCL) thinks quite a lot, when it comes to food ingredients.
The Washington-based consumer group is taking issue with a proposal before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to change the name of the sweetener High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) to "Corn Sugar" on food labels. The group says consumers have begun to increase their awareness of HFCS and its possible effect on expanding waistlines. Calling it something else, the group says, is confusing and misleading.
"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 NCL.
"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."
NCL has filed formal comments with the FDA urging the agency to reject a petition by the Corn Refiners Association requesting that the name of High Fructose Corn Syrup, a sweetener commonly found in soft drinks and processed foods, be changed to "Corn Sugar."
The request by the corn refining industry, which produces HFCS, comes before a backdrop of controversial and evolving debate over the ingredient's nutritional value and possible health implications. A number of studies have linked HFCS to obesity and other health issues.
For example, in 2007 researchers suggested that soda pop sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup may contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly in children.
The syrup, commonly called HFCS, is a sweetener found in many foods and beverages, including non-diet soda pop, baked goods, and condiments. It is has become the sweetener of choice for many food manufacturers because it is considered more economical, sweeter and easier to blend into beverages than table sugar.
The FDA officially approved the name "High Fructose Corn Syrup" in 1983, and the sweetener has been referred to by that name ever since. NCL says some consumers have decided to avoid HFCS for health reasons, and changing the name now would confuse them.
Several manufacturers of brand name foods and beverages have stopped using the ingredient including Hunt's ketchup, Snapple, Gatorade, and Starbucks' baked goods.
"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," Greenburg said. "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."