The Sugar Association filed a complaint with the FDA because they felt that soft drink labeling was dishonest. They found that soft drink companies were listing “sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup” in their ingredients, when in fact they were really only using HFCS to sweeten their stuff.
You may have seen an “and/or” ingredient on a nutrition label before. Check out that potato chip bag- it usually says something like “soybean and/or canola oil” in the ingredients. This is because the company may use either one, specifically whatever one is cheaper when they are making their chips. The FDA states that this can only be done with fats or oils, and only when they are not the predominant ingredient in the food. Since your potato chips are mostly potato, the FDA allows them to be non-specific with the oil used.
The Sugar Association got upset because (1) Sugar is not a fat or an oil, (2) Sweetener is the primary ingredient in soft drinks, and (3) The beverage industry had stopped buying their sugar but was still claiming to use it on their labels!
So what did the FDA have to say about it? Essentially that they knew it was happening but they didn’t have the time or money to deal with it:
“The Agency has not initiated enforcement actions… Because of limited agency resources and because this issue does not involve food safety, the agency will likely maintain this position.”
It’s important to remember that the FDA’s primary concern when it comes to label regulations is food safety. They are not omnipotent; they can’t make sure that every company is entirely honest all the time. When it comes to your food, asking questions and buying from manufacturers you trust is the best way to ensure clarity!
If you'd like to see the full report from the FDA you can read it here.