High-fructose corn syrup’s (HFCS) tarnished image needs some sprucing up, according to the Corn Refiners Association. That’s why it hopes to polish it up with a new name: corn sugar. The proposal to rename the sweetener comes on the heels of ad campaigns and consumer concerns about health and obesity, and has sent HFCS consumption to a 20-year low.

To help clarify food products labeling for manufacturers and consumers, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), Washington, D.C., petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow manufacturers the option of using the term “corn sugar” as an alternative ingredient name for high-fructose corn syrup.

“‘Corn sugar’ succinctly and accurately describes what this natural ingredient is and where it comes from - corn,” says Audrae Erickson, president of CRA. “Sugar from corn is a safe and affordable, natural ingredient, and based on third-party research, we believe consumers would benefit from a clearer name.”

Current labeling is confusing to American consumers, according to independent consumer research, the CRA says. Despite the fact that HFCS and table sugar contain the same amount of fructose, nearly 58% of consumers incorrectly believed that high-fructose corn syrup has more fructose than table sugar does.

The CRA notes a December 2008 report from the American Dietetic Association (ADA) that confirms HFCS is “nutritionally equivalent to sucrose (table sugar),” and that the sweeteners contain the same number of calories per gram. The ADA found that “once absorbed into the bloodstream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable.”

“When it comes to calories from sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, they’re exactly the same. The overall nutrition message that ‘calories count’ is accurate,” Erickson says.

Approval of the new moniker by the FDA could take two years, but that’s not stopping the industry from using the term now in advertising. Two new commercials try to alleviate shopper confusion, showing people that “whether it’s corn sugar or cane sugar, your body can’t tell the difference. Sugar is sugar.”

The new name could help consumers better understand the sweetener, which is used widely, mostly in soft drinks and in bread, cereal and other foods, and distance it from connections to obesity, Erickson adds. However, some scientists have linked consumption of full-calorie soda - the vast majority of which is sweetened with HFCS - to obesity.

Either way, the bottom line still seems to be that people should consume less of all sugars, says Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The American Medical Association says that there’s not enough evidence yet to restrict the use of HFCS, although it wants more research.

CLICK HEREto read our interview with Erickson, who addressed some of the issues surrounding the hot-button sweetener.