No matter what your business is, listening what consumers are saying is crucial. This week, consumers are talking about high fructose corn syrup. Yesterday a coalition of consumer groups including the National Consumers League, Consumer Federation of America, Shape Up America, and the Consumers Union (best known as publisher of the influential Consumer Reports magazine) sent a letter to the FDA asking them to deny the Corn Refiners Association’s still undecided request to refer to high fructose corn syrup as ‘corn sugar’ on product labels.
The groups addressed their letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, and cited several points when making its case. One is the sheer amount of individual consumer comments that the FDA has received on its own docket site, where nearly 5,000 comments are on record opposing the name change – compared to the 40 consumers on record in support of the name change, the consumer groups argue that it’s clear on which side consumer concerns lie. The consumer groups also argue that the CRA’s continued use of the term ‘corn sugar’ has the potential to confuse customers as to what exactly they’re getting.
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“The FDA has a statutory responsibility to ensure that consumers have the opportunity to exercise free choice in the marketplace without being misled by confusing name changes designed to hide the identity of a controversial ingredient,” stated Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, in a press release from the consumer groups.
Last year the FDA has warned the CRA to cool it on improper use of ‘corn sugar,’ and in September letters were leaked suggesting that at least a few FDA officials are keen to deny the CRA’s request. But given the recent debate over the FDA’s voluntary guidelines for livestock antibiotic use, the consumer groups are not off-base in insisting that an informal warning is not enough.
“The FDA’s warning letter to the CRA is a step in the right direction, but the term ‘corn sugar’ continues to appear in national advertising within the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FDA should ensure that it and the FTC can stop such deceptive advertising by formally denying the CRA petition,” stated Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at Consumers Union, in the press release.
“Honest food labeling and advertising is essential for Americans to improve their diets and reduce their risk of diet-related disease,” added Barbara Moore, President and CEO of Shape Up America! “FDA and FTC should devote the necessary resources to ensure that consumers are provided with clear information.”