blog about high fructose corn syrup

Transparency, Surveys and the Food Label

A recent consumer survey by the market analyst group Mintel presents some interesting statistics, but has me and probably several others a bit confused. I would like to see the questionnaire and the line of questioning that produced the main takeaway that Mintel presented:

“According to Mintel, 65% of consumers believe manufacturers or brands themselves should be responsible for disclosing how much HFCS a food or drink contains.” – Mintel Oxygen Reports, “Consumers sweet on HFCS disclosure, but soured by imposed limitations,” September 28, 2010

The way the current food labeling system works is that food and beverage manufacturers are required to list ingredients on labels in descending order of the amount used in the product. Additionally, the amount of sugars in grams is noted on the Nutrition Facts Panel. (The American Dietetic Association has a good 101 on the Nutrition Facts Panel.)

Food and beverage manufacturers have to be transparent about what is included in the products they make. It is right there on the ingredient list.

It’s interesting that some have criticized the Corn Refiners Association petition to the Food and Drug Administration to allow food and beverage manufacturers to use the term corn sugar to designate high fructose corn syrup on ingredient labels. From the CRA’s point of view, this would help consumers better identify added sugars on the ingredient list and it also provides clarity about what high fructose corn syrup is: sugar made from corn. But the critics say that we’re just trying to cover up the image problems of high fructose corn syrup. I wonder if anyone making that point has given consideration to the fact that many more people are trying to avoid sugar than they are trying to avoid high fructose corn syrup.

Independent research shows that when primary shoppers are asked what foods they are consuming less of or avoiding, 24.7% mention sugar, but only 6.5% indicate high fructose corn syrup. A total of 36.6 % of primary shoppers look for sugar on food and beverage labels, but only 3.7% look for high fructose corn syrup. (Nationally representative survey of 1,600 adults age 18 and older, conducted by The MSR Group, June 25-July 6, 2010, on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association. The margin of error is +/-4.76% at 95% confidence level.)

So changing the name to corn sugar seems pretty silly if it was just about trying to get people to consume more.

Several experts agree that a name change makes sense.

“Frankly I feel that corn sugar is perfect.” – Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill The New York Times health blog “Well,” September 14, 2010

Even The New York Times agrees that corn sugar helps identify what high fructose corn syrup is.

“That’s why we think this name change is a good idea. Calling high-fructose corn syrup “corn sugar” makes it easier for consumers to tell that sugar has been added — and easier to choose another product with no added sweeteners.” --The New York Times Editorial Board The New York Times, September 15, 2010