Yes, the "new name" is a classic strategy from corporate America: When your product or practice comes under too much fire from advocates, don't change your practices or your product, just rebrand. It's what the toxic sludge industry did when it started calling the stuff that gets sprayed on thousands of acres of farmland every year "biosolids." It's what the National Agricultural Chemicals did when it changed its name to CropLife America. And it's what BP spent allegedly $200 million to do when it erased "Petroleum" from its name and added the green-spirited helios as its logo.
The Corn Refiners Association name change is another attempt to present high-fructose corn syrup as natural—similar to and not any more harmful than table sugar. Says the trade association's website SweetSurprise.com, "High fructose corn syrup is made from corn— a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) requirements for use of the term 'natural.'" But advocates have long pointed out that high-fructose corn syrup is far from natural. Converting the glucose in corn syrup into fructose is an industrial process, one that involves a genetically engineered enzyme.
The name change would also distance the substance from its tawdry history. High-fructose corn syrup was first discovered in late 1960s and took off in the 1970s largely because corn commodity subsidies made it significantly cheaper than other sugars on the market. It also increases the shelf life of foods. (That's why you'll find high-fructose corn syrup in so many breads and other processed foods, not just in sodas.) Relatively cheap, high-fructose corn syrup was a cornerstone of the food industry's supersize-me strategy; additional high-fructose corn syrup was only marginally more costly.
More worrisome, the name change could give the false impression that the ingredient, or its processing, has been changed, or even made to be healthier. And while the jury is still out about whether high-fructose corn syrup is worse than us for sugar, whether it's metabolized differently in our bodies, for instance, there is certainly reason enough to be cautious that it just might. Harvard Medical School says research shows that high-fructose corn syrup may influence appetite hormones, for instance, and blunt feelings of fullness; it also may increase risk of heart disease. Plus, new studies last year found that samples of high-fructose corn syrup had detectable levels of mercury, from an outdated processing agent.
Finally, we shouldn't let the rebranding hoopla distract us from the one thing we can all agree on: We're eating too much added sugars of all kinds. On average we consume 31 teaspoons of added sugars every day, more than three times the upper suggested limit. (American teens consume 80 percent more than the U.S. average.) Since 1985, when consumption of corn sweeteners surpassed refined cane and beet sugar, total consumption of added sugars jumped 22 percent.