Corn sugar

US: Sugar farmers sue corn processors over “corn sugar”

A group of sugar farmers and refiners have filed a lawsuit alleging the ‘corn sugar’ campaign launched by corn processors (in the wake of the anti-HFCS hype) constitutes false advertising under federal and state law.

Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C & H Sugar Company, filed the suit in US District Court in Los Angeles. Defendants include The Corn Refiners Association, and several of its member companies, including ADM, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas.

The sugar producers are seeking an injunction to end the corn-refining industry’s marketing of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar.”

“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 corn refining industry has petitioned FDA for approval to substitute “corn sugar” for “high-fructose corn syrup” on ingredient labels, but the sugar industry notes in its lawsuit that the corn processors moved forward with the “corn sugar” branding before getting FDA approval.

Audrae Erickson, president, Corn Refiners Association, released the following statement in response to the lawsuit:

“Sugar is sugar. High fructose corn syrup and sugar are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent; experts have supported this claim, including the American Dietetic Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The name ‘corn sugar’ more accurately describes this sweetener and helps clarify food products labeling for manufacturers and consumers alike. 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.

Many manufacturers depend on high fructose corn syrup as a versatile ingredient that adds taste, texture, freshness, and sweetness to food and beverages. It is disappointing that another sweetener would sue the competition for its own gain.

Simply, this lawsuit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend our right to petition the FDA to clear up consumer confusion about the name.

We stand by the message in our ads and the science behind it.”

Another opinion: What does arch food industry commetator and critic, Prof Marion Nestle, have to say on her blog and website, Food Politics:

Sugar politics in action: Sugar sues HFCS

The Western Sugar Cooperative has just filed suit against the Corn Refiners and corn processors to stop them for falsely advertising HFCS as “corn sugar.”

Oh please. Western Sugar is trying to claim that HFCS is not sugar, when it most definitely is. To sugar associations, which represent cane and beet producers, sugar means sucrose (the white stuff on the table).

When the Sugar Association threatened to sue me for saying that soft drinks had sugar and nothing else (when they also contained HFCS), I patiently explained the biochemistry. If you would like to read what they said, I’ve posted the threatening letter and my response at the bottom of this link. Here’s the biochemistry:

  • Sucrose: a double sugar of 50% glucose and 50% fructose linked together
  • HFCS: a syrup of about 45% glucose and 55% fructose, separated

The 5% differences are biologically insignificant and the body can’t tell them apart.

I never heard from the Sugar Association again, but I try to to remember to say sugars, plural.

Whether the FDA should allow the defendants to change the name of HFCS to Corn Sugar is a matter of some debate (see previous posts and comments on them).  The FDA will make its decision in due course.

In the meantime, this lawsuit is about marketing competition among sources of sugars (plural).  It has nothing to do with health.