LOS ANGELES – The Food and Drug Administration has cautioned the corn industry over its ongoing use of the term “corn sugar” to describe high fructose corn syrup, asking it to stop using the proposed new name before it has received regulatory approval, The Associated Press has learned.

The Corn Refiners Association wants to use “corn sugar” as an alternative name for the widely used liquid sweetener currently labeled as high fructose corn syrup on most sodas and packaged foods. They’re attempting an image makeover after some scientists linked the product to obesity, diabetes and other health problems; some food companies now tout products that don’t contain the ingredient.

Though it could take another year before the FDA rules on the request made last September to change the name, the Corn Refiners Association has for months been using “corn sugar” on television commercials and at least two websites: cornsugar.com and sweetsurprise.com.

A series of high-profile television, online and print advertisements tell consumers that “sugar is sugar” and that corn sugar is natural and safe, provided it’s consumed in moderation.

In a July 12 letter obtained by the AP, Barbara Schneeman, an FDA director, wrote to the Corn Refiners Association to say she was concerned with the trade group using the terms high fructose corn syrup and “corn sugar” interchangeably. As of Thursday, two months after the letter was sent, none of that wording had been changed.

Audrae Erickson, spokeswoman for the Corn Refiners Association, said in an email to the AP that the group is currently reviewing its materials and will make changes if necessary.

“We do not believe that anyone could be confused or believe that the statements regarding ‘corn sugar’ on the websites refer to anything other than high fructose corn syrup,” Erickson wrote.

The FDA has no regulatory control over the corn association’s advertising because it is not selling a product but promoting an industry. The federal agency can prosecute companies that incorrectly label ingredients and Schneeman wrote that the FDA may launch enforcement action against food companies listing high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar.”

Beet and cane sugar producers have filed a lawsuit over the claim, saying it amounts to false advertising. A federal judge is reviewing a motion to dismiss the case.

Scientists are split over whether high fructose corn syrup is any more damaging than regular sugar. The American Medical Association has said there’s not enough evidence to restrict its use of high fructose corn syrup, though it wants more research.

Internal documents obtained by the AP indicate high-level skepticism over the planned name change, partly because regulators already have a substance on their books called “corn sugar,” which is used as another name for dextrose.