It's been more than a week since the FDA issued its ruling against the Corn Refiners Association's petition to have High Fructose Corn Sugar re-named "corn sugar" on food labels. And yet, the CRA continues to flood the basic cable airwaves with ads touting the name and its websites.
(FYI, since the CRA no longer allows embedding of its YouTube ads, here's a link for you to enjoy one of the folksy spots.)
We reached out to the FDA about this, but part of the reason that the CRA was able to run those ads while the petition was pending is because the FDA has no control over ads that are not for specific food products. And since no one is going out and buying HFCS at their local Kroger — though some foods may as well be considered to be pure HFCS — FDA couldn't do anything about it.
Thus it lies in the Federal Trade Commission's lap to decide whether or not these ads are deceptive. Certainly, during the FDA review of the petition, it would have been presumptive for FTC to make such a call. In the wake of the decision, it will have to decide whether or not these ads are making false or misleading claims.
One question it will likely face is whether the CRA's continued use of "corn sugar" is potentially harmful to fructose-sensitive and fructose-intolerant consumers. Currently, "corn sugar" is an acceptable alternative name for dextrose, which these people can eat safely.
In the FDA's denial of the CRA petition, it wrote, "changing the name for HFCS to "corn sugar" could put these individuals at risk and pose a public health concern." What the FTC would need to decide is whether advertising — as opposed to labeling a food product — the "corn sugar" name would also pose this same concern.
We asked the FTC for comment, but the commission says it only issues statements after it has completed an investigation (which doesn't mean there is necessarily an investigation being done on this particular issue).
We twice asked the CRA, which had previously been forthcoming with comments on the issue, to discuss its continued airing of the corn sugar ads and the promotion of cornsugar.com. However, it looks like we are on the CRA's "don't reply to them anymore" list.
The CRA did however, say last week that "the vast majority of American consumers are confused about HCFS," so maybe the association is continuing the company line that these ads are intended to educate the public.
Adam Fox, a sugar industry lawyer involved in the ongoing litigation for the Sugar Association, which has been suing the CRA over corn sugar marketing pretty much since the first ad aired, tells Consumerist that he believes these ads are misinforming the public, "particularly in light of the FDA's statement that calling HFCS sugar 'would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties.'"
Fox believes that "calling HFCS 'corn sugar' betrays a willful, deliberate plan to mislead the public."
Only time will tell on which side the courts and/or federal regulators come down.
Statement From CRA President Audrae Erickson:
Our mission is to help consumers understand the simple, indisputable fact that high fructose corn syrup is just another form of sugar. Knowing this information will help them make better decisions about calorie control and consumption. The FDA did not address or question the scientific evidence that HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar and that the body can't tell the difference between one sugar and another. The continued efforts of the Sugar Association to block our education campaign are nothing more than censorship because they prefer that consumers do not know that HFCS is a sugar.
Federal Trade Commission/FTC tag, please?