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Would consumers benefit from changes to the way HFCS is labeled?

By Elaine WATSON, 05-Sep-2012

Related topics: Sweeteners (intense, bulk, polyols), Regulation, The obesity problem, HFCS

As the row between sugar and corn refiners heats up this week, advocacy group Citizens for Health has entered the fray with a citizen’s petition calling for the FDA to change the way high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is labeled.

The petition calls for HFCS formulations that deviate from the standard 42% or 55% fructose levels to be subject to a pre-market safety assessment on the grounds that only HFCS 42 and 55 are generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

In the interim period, the percentage of fructose used in HFCS formulations should be indicated on the label (eg.'HFCS 65’), it argues.

Consumers have been led to believe that the only concentrations used and labeled as HFCS are 42% and 55% fructose when in fact formulations containing far higher percentages of fructose are used in several products, it claims.

Consumers are being misled

For example, HFCS used in some soft drinks contains 65% fructose, while ADM markets a HFCS sweetener containing 90% fructose, claimed CFH VP and senior policy advisor James Gormley.

"It is common knowledge in the food industry that HFCS is officially manufactured with three amounts of fructose: 42, 55 and 90.  

“Scientists from the University of Southern California Childhood Obesity Research Center also found in 2010 that the fructose content of some HFCS-sweetened beverages came in as high as 65% fructose.

“As the study’s senior author Dr. Michael I. Goran noted, 'The elevated fructose levels in the sodas most Americans drink are of particular concern because of the negative effects fructose has on the body.' Indeed, it is well recognized that fructose in particular has been epidemiologically and clinically linked with obesity and metabolic syndrome."

Formulations other than HFCS 42 and 55 are not approved

Citizens for Health is not aware of any GRAS designated or premarket approved HFCS with a concentration of fructose above 55%, added Gormley, noting that the FDA’s 1996 GRAS (re)approval of HFCS 42 and 55 did not include HFCS-90 in its exposure estimate for HFCS.

“Consumers will benefit from having an indicator as to what fructose concentration is associated with the product which they are considering to buy."

He added: "Our goal is to not ban products but to inform consumers."

 ‘Baseless allegations’ and ‘inflammatory language’

But Corn Refiners Association (CRA) president Audrae Erickson said the petition was just “the latest unfounded attack on HFCS” and said it also raised "new questions about CFH's financial ties to the sugar industry", which is suing corn refiners over the recent 'corn sugar' media campaign .

She added: ”Our concerns are reinforced by the baseless allegations and inflammatory language in the petition and press release claiming, for example, that HFCS – a sweetener that has been used safely for years and is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar – poses 'a serious threat to consumer safety'.

This latest scare tactic by Citizens for Health is so lacking in scientific merit and is so filled with misleading information that it is hard to come to any other conclusion other than that they are acting on interests that have little to do with what is truly best for consumers.

“The group admits to being funded by ‘food growers and businesses’ but does not fully reveal whether it takes money from The Sugar Association or any of its members or representatives. It is an indisputable fact they have taken money from The Sugar Association in the past and are, now, not being fully transparent about their admitted financial relationships with food growers and businesses that may have a profit-motive in bankrolling their efforts."

The CRA did not respond to questions on the legal status of HFCS formulations containing more than 55% fructose or explain how widely used such formulations are in industry. 

CFH: The corn folks are pulling the wool over the eyes of the industry and consumers

CFH describes itself as “a non-profit, independent voice for the natural health consumer” with most donations coming from “individual consumers”.

However, CFH chair of the Board (and principal in the law firm firm Swankin & Turner) Jim Turner told FoodNavigator-USA that he was "happy to take money from whoever will support us on this issue”.

He added: "The corn folks are pulling the wool over the eyes of the industry and consumers. They are being told that other formulations are approved when they are not. The FDA should require these firms to file a food additive petition to demonstrate the safety [of formulations containing more than 55% fructose]."

Asked why consumers would benefit from more detailed labeling, he added: "The corn folks say the public doesn't care about this issue. But our point is that the public doesn't know."

The FDA must respond to citizen’s petitions within 150 days.