By Sara Wyant
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
LOS ANGELES, April 28 - American sugar farmers and refiners have filed a suit to stop corn processors from marketing high-fructose corn syrup as a "natural" product equivalent to real sugar.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last week by Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C & H Sugar Company, Inc., charges that the "corn sugar" branding campaign financed by the corn refining industry's companies constitutes false advertising under federal and state law.
Companies named as defendants include Archer Daniels Midland Company, Cargill, Inc., Corn Products International, Inc., Penford Products Co., Roquette America, Inc., Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, Inc. and the companies' marketing and lobbying organization, The Corn Refiners Association, Inc.
"This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple," said Inder Mathur, President and CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative. "If consumers are concerned about your product, then you should improve it or explain its benefits, not try to deceive people about its name or distort scientific facts." The sugar producers seek an injunction to end the advertising campaign and also seek damages, including compensation for corrective advertising.
The Corn Refiners Association petitioned the Food & Drug Administration in September 2010 to more succinctly and accurately describe what this natural ingredient is and where it comes from—corn.
Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, said the lawsuit is without merit, as HFCS and sugar are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent.
"Sugar is sugar," Erickson said.
“High fructose corn syrup makes many healthy foods palatable and affordable for American consumers. It is disappointing that another sweetener would sue the competition for its own gain – and stand in the way of consumer clarity about added sugars in the diet,” she said in a statement.
According to the complaint, consumers have increasingly sought to avoid food and drinks containing HFCS, because of its possible role in the obesity epidemic and other nutritional and health problems, or simply to avoid non-natural ingredients. As a result, food and beverage makers have been replacing HFCS with real sugar, and the corn refining industry has seen HFCS sales steadily decline.