The suit, filed in a US district court in Los Angeles by Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C & H Sugar Company, claims the industry’s corn sugar branding campaign for high fructose corn syrup constitutes false advertising. Companies named as defendants in the case are ADM, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, and the Corn Refiners Association.
President and CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative Inder Mathur said: “This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple. 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 Refiners Association (CRA) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in September asking it to allow the term ‘corn sugar’ as an alternative label declaration for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The CRA – a trade association that represents the corn refining industry in the United States – claims that ‘corn sugar’ would provide greater clarity for consumers, and it has repeatedly stressed that HFCS is not high in fructose, even though that is what the name may suggest. In fact it contains proportions of fructose and glucose that are similar to sucrose.
Commenting on the lawsuit, Corn Refiners Association president Audrae Erickson said that the association stands by its advertising campaign and intends to defend its FDA petition.
She said: “Sugar is sugar. High fructose corn syrup and sugar are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent…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.”
The complainants claim that the corn industry should have waited until the FDA responded to the petition to allow manufacturers ‘corn sugar’ as an alternative labeling claim for HFCS before going ahead with the ad campaign. They are seeking an injunction to end the campaign as well as damages, including “compensation for corrective advertising”.
The United States is still the world’s biggest user of high fructose corn syrup, but manufacturers have been increasingly switching it out of their products in recent years in preference for beet or cane sugar, on the back of a spate of bad publicity.