Wednesday, April 02, 2008

And on a related topic, is HFCS "natural"?

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) official sent the corn refiners lobby into a tizzy today, by stating the obvious. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), whatever merits or demerits it may have, should not be marketed as "natural."

Lorraine Heller at reports today that her publication wrote FDA to ask whether high-fructose corn syrup could be labeled "natural." Here is Heller's account of the response from Geraldine June at the FDA:
"The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our (…) policy regarding the use of the term 'natural'," said Geraldine June.

"Moreover, the corn starch hydrolysate, which is the substrate used in the production of HFCS, may be obtained through the use of safe and suitable acids or enzymes. Depending on the type of acid(s) used to obtain the corn starch hydrolysate, this substrate itself may not fit within the description of 'natural' and, therefore, HCFS produced from such corn starch hydrolysate would not qualify for a 'natural' labeling term," she concluded.
The corn refiners association leaped into action and released a press statement (.pdf), also dated today:
A comment today by a single Food & Drug Administration employee regarding whether High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is “natural” was mistakenly portrayed by an online news outlet as the official position of the agency, but actually reflects only the personal view of that one employee who was responding to a reporter’s question.
Last year, under pressure from possible consumer group lawsuits, Cadbury Schweppes agreed not to use the term "all natural" in advertising 7-UP, a carbonated beverage made with HFCS. The Accidental Hedonist has been covering HFCS periodically.

Consider the corn refiners association's own description of the history of HFCS:
Corn syrup technology advanced significantly with the introduction of enzyme-hydrolyzed products. In 1921, crystalline dextrose hydrate was introduced. Then in the mid-1950's, the technology for commercially preparing low conversion products such as maltodextrin and low DE syrups was developed. The purification and crystallization of dextrose meant for the first time that corn based sweeteners could compete in some markets that had been the sole domain of the sugar industry.

The next developments involved enzyme catalyzed isomerization of dextrose to fructose. The first commercial shipment of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) took place in 1967. The fructose content of the syrup was around 15 percent. Further research enabled the industry to develop a higher conversion and the first commercial shipment of HFCS-42 or 42 percent fructose syrup took place a year later. Further refinements in the process were developed in the late 1970's and by the mid 1980's, HFCS became the sweetener of choice for the soft drink industry in the U.S.
This corn refiners association's history makes the industry's scientists look like clever folks, but it's off message for the industry's "natural" claim.

It seems unwise for the corn refiners association to let this debate turn on the question of whether HFCS is "natural." The association should give ground on that point, the better to win other victories another day. If they give up on marketing HFCS "produced from such corn starch hydrolysate" as "natural," there are more honest adjectives that the corn refiners might use to praise their product: "sweet" and "inexpensive." Er, ... "formerly inexpensive."

[Hat tip to an anonymous comment on the preceding post.]


momeve said...

MOMS-I.N.C. (Improving Nutrition for Children) has long maintained that HFCS, thought among nutritionists and medical professionals to play a big role in the childhood obesity epidemic, is not by any stretch, a "natural" additive. In fact, we have named it as one of our FAKE 5, a group of artificial additives that we have found, through years of scientific research, to be responsible for a host of health problems. It would be nice if food manufacturers would replace this chemical with more natural sweeteners especially given the confusion so many parents have when determining what to feed their kids. MOMS-I.N.C. will continue to educate people and continue to work with schools to advocate for less chemically laden school lunches. Info on this and other FAKE 5 additives can be found at Thanks for your blog! The more voices the better!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I say we start by systematically ruining extant batches of HFCS. If the law won't help us, we'll have to become outlaws.