The Corn Refiners Association (the “CRA”), a trade organization representing the US corn refining industry, recently petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) to allow the term “corn sugar” as an alternative label declaration for high fructose corn syrup (“HFCS”). The the FDA’s decision on whether to approve the renaming is expected to take up to two years.

The CRA is advocating the renaming, stressing that HFCS, despite the name, is not actually high in fructose. There are three different types of HFCS one that is 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose (HFCS 55, most commonly found in soft drinks) - one that is 42 percent fructose and 58 percent glucose (HFCS 42, usually used in food products), and one used for specialty applications that is 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose (HFCS 90, typically used to blend with HFCS 42 to make HFCS 55). Buttressing the CRA’s claim is an American Dietetic Association study that also reached the conclusion that HFCS contains proportions of fructose and glucose that are similar to sugar.

While the CRA’s stated objective in pursuing the alternative label declaration for HFCS is achieving greater clarity for consumers, this change may also yield economic benefits for companies that use HFCS in their products. According to a recent report by market research organization Mintel, a majority of consumers surveyed claim to avoid products in which HFCS is listed as one of the first ingredients. This preference is strongest among more affluent and better educated consumers. HFCS has faced significant levels of negative publicity in recent years, reaching a crescendo with the 2004 publication of a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlighting the parallel between obesity and the rise in high fructose corn syrup consumption, and hypothesizing that the two could be related. The study’s authors have since said they were wrong in their speculation, and the American Medical Association has concluded that HFCS “does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners”, but as the results of consumer surveys and sales data indicate, the backlash against HFCS has continued. There is precedent for this type of rebranding, as in November of 2009 Ajinomoto rebranded its aspartame sweetener as “AminoSweet” based on many of the same issues at play in the current discussion of HFCS.