Why is the FDA Allowing an Illegal Ingredient In Foods & Beverages?
The FDA has only approved High Fructose Corn Syrup with no more than 55 percent fructose content. Yet a 2010 study found that samples of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite all had fructose levels much higher than the legally approved FDA limit. So how could this happen?
While the FDA takes time to hammer small agricultural businesses and supplement companies, there’s very little regulation when it comes to bigger corporations with large profits. So little, in fact, that some companies are not only using illegal levels of fructose in their products, they’re sneaking in a much more dangerous sweetener: HFCS-90.
HFCS-90 is a highly controversial High Fructose Corn Syrup that has 90% fructose, almost twice the legal limit allowed for use in our foods and beverages.
The FDA has never officially approved HFCS-90 because it says it “does not have adequate information to assess the safety of…the final product.” The FDA also noted that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption…would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”
But the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), a lobbying group that represents the companies that manufacture HFCS-90 and claims HFCS is “virtually the same” as real sugar, recently admitted that this banned ingredient has been in use “with FDA knowledge for decades.” In blatant violation of government regulations, one manufacturer, Archer Daniels Midland, even markets a non-FDA approved food product, Cornsweet 90® on its corporate website.
Given that the fructose content of HFCS is a topic the CRA would prefer not to discuss, it’s unlikely the organization would ever have made such an acknowledgment if not for a petition filed with the FDA this past September by Citizens For Health. The petition requests that the agency take action against food and beverage manufacturers using HFCS with fructose levels above 55 percent and in the interim, require that actual percentage of fructose it contains be specified on the label.
In responding to that petition, J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, not only states that HFCS-90 has been used for “decades,” but also claims the “FDA acknowledged this in 1996 when it issued the HFCS GRAS (generally recognized as safe) affirmation regulation.” What Mr. Mohan neglects to mention, however, is in what context the FDA “acknowledged” the use of HFCS-90.
In fact, what the agency said was, “This product contains a substantially different ratio of glucose to fructose than…HFCS-55. The HFCS-90 is not included in this rulemaking because the agency does not have adequate information to assess the safety of residual levels of the processing materials in the final product.” The FDA also noted that “additional data on the effects of fructose consumption that is not balanced with glucose consumption would be needed to ensure that this product is safe.”
Seeking further clarification, I asked the agency last year about HFCS-90, and was informed in an email from a spokesperson that HFCS-90 is a “nonstandardized food” and is “not high fructose corn syrup.”
Mohan’s response also makes mention of “fluctuations in fructose levels above 42 or 55 %” in HFCS, which he apparently believes “would be expressly permitted” by regulatory officials.
Those so-called “fluctuations” were ‘discovered’ in 2010 by Dr. Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) and professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California. Dr. Goren, who regards higher fructose intake as a risk factor in health problems such as diabetes (as do other experts), analyzed samples of Coke, Pepsi and Sprite, and found that fructose levels in the HFCS used in these popular beverages went as high as 65 percent.
“The only information we have,” Goran told me in an interview, “is that industry says sodas and beverages are made with HFCS-55, which suggests that 55 percent of the sugar is fructose. That’s an assumption that everybody makes,” he said. “So we decided we wanted to actually verify, measure the fructose content so we could get a better handle on how much fructose people were actually consuming every time they open a can of soda.”
In fact, consumers have been given the impression that HFCS is even lower in fructose than that. In a TV ad blitz sponsored by the CRA, they were told that HFCS and sugar are basically the same, having “virtually” equal amounts of fructose and glucose. (Natural sugar, or sucrose, contains a fixed amount of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose). One commercial – although it wasn’t produced by the CRA, but another group called “SweetScam.com” – even depicts HFCS as a psychiatric patient complaining to Dr. Ruth about having a name like “high fructose corn syrup” that was really “stupid…as I’m actually low in fructose” and being advised to change it to “corn sugar” (a recommendation that was flatly rejected by the FDA).
But Mohan, must have missed all those commercials, judging from his letter to the FDA, which also states that “…there is no evidence that consumers have been ‘told’” about the fructose content of HFCS, and that “(I)nformation of that specificity simply does not appear on product labels or in the advertising or marketing of HFCS-containing, end-user products.” And while his letter claims that HFCS-90 uses are “minor” and that the “FDA has been aware of these limited uses for decades,” he provides no hints as to which food products may actually contain it or any idea of what “minor” and “limited” actually mean in this context.
All of this leaves us with a question: how do we know the precise fructose content of food products containing HFCS? Is it 42 percent, 55 percent, 65 percent, 90 percent,or somewhere in between? And what, exactly, are those supposedly “limited” and “minor” items that the CRA now admits have contained the 90 percent fructose version of HFCS for all these years?
These are things every American consumer should have a right to know. And by signing and supporting this Citizens for Health Petition to have HFCS fructose amount labeled, you’ll be making a statement that secrecy is impermissible when it comes to what we’re ingesting – and how much.
This article was originally published as a two-part review of HFCS-90 on Citizens.org.