By Emily Fredrix
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; A6
The makers of high-fructose corn syrup asked the federal government Tuesday for permission to sweeten its image with a new name: corn sugar.
The Corn Refiners Association wants to use the name on food labels. The Food and Drug Administration could take two years to render a decision, but in the meantime, the industry has begun using the term in its advertising - in an online marketing campaign, at www.cornsugar.com, and on television.
Corn syrup is used in soft drinks, bread, cereal and other products. Americans' consumption of the sweetener has fallen to a 20-year low because of concerns that it is more likely to cause obesity or otherwise more harmful than ordinary sugar, fears that are supported by little scientific evidence.
However, some scientists have linked consumption of full-calorie soda - most of which is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup - to obesity.
Renaming products has succeeded before. For example, low -erucic acid rapeseed oil became much more popular after becoming "canola oil" in 1988. Prunes tried to shed a stodgy image by becoming "dried plums" in 2000.
The new name would help people understand corn sweetener, said Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, based in Washington.
"It has been highly disparaged and highly misunderstood," she said.
Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are nutritionally the same, and there is no evidence that the sweetener is any worse for the body than sugar, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The bottom line is that people should consume less of all sugars, Jacobson said.
"Soda pop sweetened with sugar is every bit as conducive to obesity as soda pop sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup," he said.
The American Medical Association says there's not enough evidence to restrict the use of high-fructose corn syrup, although it wants more research.
Still, Americans increasingly are blaming high-fructose corn syrup and avoiding it. First lady Michelle Obama has said she does not want her daughters eating it.
Many companies are responding by removing it from their products. Last month, Sara Lee switched to sugar in two of its breads. Gatorade, Snapple and Hunt's ketchup very publicly switched to sugar in the past two years.
On average, Americans ate 35.7 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's down 21 percent from 45.4 pounds 10 years before.
Cane and beet sugar, meanwhile, have hovered around 44 pounds per person a year since the mid-1980s, after falling rapidly in the 1970s, when high-fructose corn syrup - a cheaper alternative to sugar - gained favor with soft drink makers.
Corn refiners say the new name better describes the sweetener.
"The name 'corn sugar' more accurately reflects the source of the food (corn), identifies the basic nature of the food (a sugar), and discloses the food's function (a sweetener)," the petition said.
- Associated Press