E-Mail Shows Big Corn Exec Wary Of Using “Natural” To Describe High-Fructose Corn Syrup

cornmazegrabThough the FDA rejected the bid to relabel high-fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” in 2012, the legal battle over ads about the sweetener is still ongoing. Newly uncovered e-mails from executives at huge agri-business firms reveal that not everyone was on board with all the messaging in the pro-HFCS ads.

NBC News reports that a handful of doubt-tinged correspondence has turned up among the hundreds of thousands of pages of court documents involved in the courtroom wars between the Corn Refiners Association and a group of sugar companies that opposed the “corn sugar” campaign.

One 2010 e-mail from an Archer Daniels-Midland spokesperson expresses concern over the use of the term “natural” in the advertising.

“I think we’re unnecessarily asking for trouble by using the ‘natural’ language,” wrote the rep. “I don’t think we really gain much in the mind of the audience or customers and I think it provides a point to ridicule the ads and the industry comes off as being disingenuous.”

He points to TV news pundits who had already raised the question of how HFCS, which uses a chemical process to convert regular corn syrup, could be considered a “natural” ingredient. The rep says that just because ADM and others believe that the sweetener is natural “doesn’t mean we have to say it.”

A 2009 e-mail from CRA president Audrae Erickson said that while she expects the food and beverage industry “would want to defend this highly versatile ingredient that is highly prized and widely used,” the Corn Refiners’ “sponsorship of this campaign (should) remain confidential.”

A lawyer representing corn syrup companies explains these e-mails to NBC, saying they “clearly show… the corn refiners engaged in a rigorous internal discussion about the public relations aspects of what HFCS is called, while never wavering in their core belief that high fructose corn syrup is both natural and nutritionally equivalent to sugar.”

Before the FDA rejected the bid to rename HFCS as corn sugar — in part because that label is already used for dextrose monohydrate — the sugar companies had already filed suit against the CRA, alleging false advertising. The CRA later countersued, claiming the sugar companies were maliciously trying to defame the CRA and HFCS.

Whatever you think of the sugar vs. HFCS debate, you have to admit the “corn sugar” ads were hilariously folksy and continue to be good fodder for a chuckle:

Thanks to Simon for the tip!

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  1. mobafett says:

    Corn is already hidden in our foods, the processes to create foods (citric acid washes to process meats, for example), and even in the packaging of the food (corn starch on plastic wrap). Further obfuscation is really not needed.

  2. radioone says:

    This video is dependent on the naturalistic fallacy. It suggests refined products are bad for you and that GMO products are bad for you as well.

    Refined products may be ‘proven’ to be bad for you, but that’s not inherent in the product itself, it’s based on behavioral choices. GMO products have not been rigorously tested or conclusively proven to be bad for you either.

    I think the issue is how we define natural and processed to begin with. The only claim that sugar people have going for them is that HFCS 90 glucose to sugar ratio does not occur naturally.

    • furiousd says:

      Whenever I see ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ at the grocery store, I immediately don’t want to buy that product. The real definition of the term organic is carbon-based. Gas stations could market their product as organic. Humans are organic. It’s just another meaningless term that people have latched on to for marketing.

      Further, I also agree that actual testing needs to be done before anything’s demonized. Perhaps GMO is proven to be safe in long-term studies and ends up being cheaper, less pesticides and pollution, more nutritional content in food, longer shelf life, better flavour, etc. but we won’t know until it’s tested. The sway of public opinion in matters where the public aren’t correctly informed on the matters they’ve developed opinions on is the bane of any intelligent person’s life.

      • PhillyDom says:

        The real definition of the term organic is carbon-based.

        You’re being pedantic here. There’s a legal definition of the term “organic” with respect to foods, and it’s enforced by the federal government.

        Perhaps GMO is proven to be safe in long-term studies and ends up being cheaper, less pesticides and pollution, more nutritional content in food, longer shelf life, better flavour, etc. but we won’t know until it’s tested.

        Monsanto, ADM et al. aren’t interested in waiting for testing. They want to sell the stuff yesterday.

        The sway of public opinion in matters where the public aren’t correctly informed on the matters they’ve developed opinions on is the bane of any intelligent person’s life.

        It’s funny. The companies that bemoan how consumers aren’t correctly informed about GMO foods are the same ones working to defeat proposals to label foods containing GMO products. Apparently, some facts are more correct than others.