More charges and countercharges in the three-year-old battle between sugar producers and the makers of high-fructose corn syrup, which are suing each other for false advertising.

Western Sugar Cooperative, the Sugar Association and other sugar refiners began the legal fight in April 2011, filing a lawsuit over an HFCS marketing campaign which described the product as “corn sugar.” The groups accused the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), which includes Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Co. and Tate & Lyle of misleading the public by promoting HFCS as nutritionally identical to sugar.

The CRA countersued in 2012, claiming that the sugar industry was unjustly smearing HFCS to drive consumers away from the product, and a discovery hearing was held on Thursday in federal court in Los Angeles, during which attorneys for the two sides sought and received documents that may be used as evidence during proceedings.

Adam Fox, an attorney for the Sugar Association, said the hearing was a “complete victory” for his clients, noting that the court asked the corn refiners to strip the confidentiality from several documents and to re-evaluate all documents they had marked as confidential.

Before the hearing, CRA unveiled documents that Fox called “very damaging” to the corn refiners. He said they included e-mails in which company executives expressed doubts about validity of their advertising campaign.

“[The documents] clearly demonstrate an awareness by the defendant that the advertising campaign they launched had serious problems and the biggest problem was their lack of truth,” Fox said.

The CRA, for its part, claims the Sugar Association has conducted its own 10-year campaign against HFCS that “deceived the public in an effort to frighten consumers away from sugar alternatives.”  It said the sugar industry’s own documents show that producers of the sweetener  knowingly misrepresented scientific articles, and in 2003 outlined their “number-one management objective” was to drive buyers away from HFCS and to sugar.

“If anything, it is plaintiffs who have engaged in a spin-and-smear conspiracy to scare the public into consuming sugar over HFCS,” the CRA stated in a court document, claiming the Sugar Association funded scientists to produce a flawed study on the benefits of sugar over HFCS. 

Fox, representing the sugar producers, said the corn processing industry had conducted an extensive campaign for more than four years in order to “dupe the public” into believing high fructose corn syrup is natural, appropriately called corn sugar, and processes no differently in the human body than sugar. He said there was a document in which an ADM executive called the plan to rename HFCS as corn sugar “dishonest and sneaky,” and another in which a Tate & Lyle executive said that calling HFCS “corn sugar” may raise legal concerns.

“These documents show for first time that defendants themselves believed that each of the advertising claims at a minimum were seriously challenged and questioned,” Fox said.

CRA President Jon Bode responded in a statement, saying “the sugar industry] has squandered any credibility it had on health and science issues,’’ adding, “We intend to fight this litigation with science on our side.”

A pretrial conference in the legal battle is scheduled for November. The case, Western Sugar Cooperative v. Archer-Daniels-Midland, Co., is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.


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