What's in a name? A lot, if you've got an inconvenient one and you want to change it. Would John Denver ever have become beloved, or even reviled, as Henry John Deuschendorf?
Thus you can understand the disappointment of the makers of high-fructose corn syrup this week after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration rejected a request by the corn-refining giants to allow them to change the name of their product to "corn sugar."
The agency said that it defines sugar as a solid, dried and crystallized food — not a syrup. Plus there's already something that technically is a solid corn-based sweetener, dextrose. Thus, the corn refiners are stuck with the moniker — better known by the acronym HFCS — that might as well appear as a skull and crossbones on nutritional labels, the way many American mothers see it.
HFCS, widely used in snack foods and other highly processed items, is widely blamed for playing a significant role in boosting the nation's obesity rate. It isn't considered worse for the body than sugar, but it is less expensive than sugar and mixes more easily into more recipes, so it has been considered an accelerant of the explosion in junk-food choices and consumption.
The Corn Refiners Association has been waging a marketing campaign to equate HFCS to sugar for a few years, and in 2010 the group petitioned the FDA for the name change on nutrition labels.
Of course, the decision was greeted with confetti throwing by the Sugar Association, which crowed that the FDA's decision confirmed its position that sugar and HFCS are two distinct products. "What's going on here is basically a con game to suggest otherwise," said Dan Callister, a Sugar Association lawyer.
Meanwhile, the sugar people still have a big set of problems. Because while sugar may not be as reviled as HFCS by nutritionists, moms and activists, it still has a major reputational challenge. More media buzz is suggesting that sugar not only is a huge culprint in childhood obesity, that it continues to be suspected in problems such as hyperactivity, and — now, thanks to a UCLA study — that it might actually inhibit cognitive function.
So, the corn refiners might want to find another gang to run with anyway.