It was Shakespeare’s Juliet who said:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

But the makers of high fructose corn syrup believe that HFCS would perhaps taste sweeter, or at least more appealing, as corn sugar.

That has drawn the ire of sugar industry leaders, who have filed a lawsuit that claims a marketing campaign that calls HFCS “corn sugar” is false and misleading.

The plaintiffs include the U.S. Sugar Corp., the Sugar Association and the American Sugar Cane League.

The lawsuit, filed in April, noted that HFCS has been getting some bad press and thus there existed a motive for trying to borrow the halo of sugar. From the lawsuit:

"In recent years, scientists and other observers noted that this dramatic growth in the use of HFCS, which increased by over 1000% between 1970 and 1990, bears a strong temporal relationship to the growth in American obesity. After some researchers began to publish hypotheses based on testing of a potential causal relationship between the dramatic, concurrent rises in HFCS consumption and obesity, HFCS sales began a steady and sustained decline."

Later:

“Seeking to co-opt the goodwill of “sugar” and even changing the HFCS name by calling it a kind of sugar to sidestep growing consumer sentiment is paradigmatically false and misleading advertising.”

The defendants in the lawsuit are the huge agribusiness giants Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Co. and others who say they won’t abandon their “corn sugar” message.

Of course, the Corn Refiners Association has asked the FDA to permit HFCS producers to use “corn sugar” as an alternative name.

The FDA wrote to the Corn Refiners Association in May, finding an issue with their request because the term corn sugar already has an existing Generally Regarded as Safe regulation, and that definition doesn’t include HFCS.

The regulation defines “corn sugar” in terms of its chemical composition as alpha-D-glucopyranose (C6H12O6) and notes that it is commonly called D-glucose or dextrose. HFCS is not dextrose, which is crystalline and does not contain any fructose.

FDA is obviously concerned that the CRA petition fails to discuss how this section would be handled, one source told me.

Logically, he said, the definition would need to be changed if FDA were to allow corn refiners to call HFCS corn sugar. But doing this might be confusing to the public since HFCS and corn sugar definitions are both around 35 - 40 years old.

Whether the CRA oversight will have any bearing on the outcome of the case brought by sugar industry players is hard to say. Speaking as an amused bystander, let the fireworks commence.

There is no connection with this case, of course, to the fresh produce industry. Perhaps a legal issue like this would arise if a processed food manufacturer was trying to pass off processed fruits and vegetables as “fresh produce.” Who will defend the integrity of the “fresh produce” moniker when the need arises, I wonder?

The dispute between the corn lobby and the sugar lobby will be worth watching as the debate over the farm bill begins. Sugar producers don’t want their opposition to the term “corn sugar” to result in the decimation of farm bill support for sugar producers, and the well-connected corn lobby could probably do just that.