Our consumer protection attorneys were pleased to hear of the FDA’s recent decision on labels using the term “corn sugar.” For some time, certain food manufacturers have added high-fructose corn syrup to soda, breakfast cereal and virtually all other processed foods and beverages sold in grocery stores today. However, in recent years, high-fructose corn syrup has come under fire for the myriad of problems to which it contributes, including obesity, diabetes, and even, due to the method of processing, mercury poisoning.
As a result, many manufacturers have simply sought to mislead consumers about the contents of the foods they sell, leaving the ingredients intact but changing the ingredient list to read “corn sugar” instead. Now, at last, the FDA has taken action to stop this deceptive practice.
Manufacturers have argued that they should be permitted to continue labeling high-fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” in the interests of consumers. Food manufacturers, together with the Corn Refiners Association, argued that the two terms were equivalent both nutritionally and metabolically.
The FDA, however, disagreed. The agency ruled that the term “corn sugar,” as applied to high-fructose corn syrup, was inconsistent with both the common understanding of the term “sugar” and the term’s dictionary definition. As such, using the term could mislead consumers.
Additionally, the FDA noted that the use of the term could not only expose consumers to the dangers described above, but could cause more direct harm. This is because “corn sugar” is already used to refer to dextrose, a dry, crystalized sugar made from corn starch. This sugar is essential to certain individuals whose bodies cannot process fructose. Thus, labeling high-fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” could risk the health and lives of these individuals.
While the FDA ruling serves to protect consumers from this deceptive practice going forward, it does not put an end to legal claims based on prior labeling. For instance, there is litigation currently pending between the corn-syrup industry and the sugar industry over advertising that equated sugar and corn syrup. The ruling also does nothing to stop products liability claims by individuals injured by the mislabeling, such as those with the inability to process fructose.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago consumer protection lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.