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Originally published January 12 2009

FDA Says High Fructose Corn Syrup Cannot be Considered "Natural"

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) While still refraining from issuing a formal definition on the term "natural," the FDA has ruled that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) definitely does not qualify for the label.

The decision is significant for the food and beverage industries, where "natural" is a prized and highly contested label. While the Corn Refiners Association trade group has maintained that HFCS, derived from corn, is a natural sweetener, this claim has been disputed by the competing Sugar Association and by consumer groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest. In 2007, both Cadbury Schweppes and Kraft decided to remove "natural" labels from products containing HFCS after being threatened with lawsuits.

The heart of the question has been whether a sweetener, even one derived from a natural product like corn, can be considered natural if its chemical bonds are altered as part of the manufacturing process.

Although there is no formal definition of the term "natural," the FDA has a system through which manufacturers can inquire as to whether specific uses of the term would be appropriate. Using this system, submitted a query about the status of HFCS.

Office of Nutrition Product Evaluation and Labeling Team Supervisor Geraldine June responded that because HFCS is manufactured using synthetic fixing agents, "we would object to the use of the term 'natural' on a product containing HFCS."

"The use of synthetic fixing agents in the enzyme preparation, which is then used to produce HFCS, would not be consistent with our ... policy regarding the use of the term 'natural'," June said. "Moreover, the corn starch hydrolysate ... used in the production of HFCS, may be obtained through the use of safe and suitable acids or enzymes. Depending on the type of acid(s) used to obtain the corn starch hydrolysate, this substrate itself may not fit within the description of 'natural' and, therefore, HCFS produced from such corn starch hydrolysate would not qualify for a 'natural' labeling term."

While the FDA has yet to respond to two petitions for it to define the term "natural," June told that the agency has other priorities for its limited budget and has no plans to define "natural" in the near future. In addition, June said, the agency was not sure how concerned consumers were with the issue.

Nonetheless, the agency acknowledged in 1993 that "[some] consumers regard many uses of this term as noninformative."

The petitions were submitted by the Sugar Association, which wants a mandate to call sugar a natural sweetener, and baked goods manufacturer Sara Lee, which says that the food industry and consumers need consistency in labeling.

At this point, the FDA's only requirement for the natural label is that products so labeled may not contain any artificial flavors, colors or other additives. In addition, no specific ingredient may be labeled with the term, with the exception of "natural flavors."

But according to a 2006 survey by Harris Interactive, 83 percent of the U.S. public would like to see the government define the term. This may be because more consumers are seeking natural products than ever before; according to a 2004 survey by the Natural Marketing Institute, 63 percent of people in the United States prefer to consume natural food and beverage products.

The Mintel Global New Products Database reports that in 2007, "All Natural" was the third most common claim made on the labels of new food products in the United States and the fourth most common for beverages, with 2,617 and 542 claims respectively. In Europe, 878 new foods and 509 new beverages were launched with "All Natural" labels that year.

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