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!