A lawsuit regarding claims of false advertising for the artificial sweetener Splenda is set to go ahead as planned, after a federal court rejected a request for summary judgment.
The case between industry body Sugar Association and Johnson & Johnson - parent company of the distributor of the artificial sweetener - was originally set to go to trial this month.
It follows a long-standing dispute between the company and the trade body, which claims that the marketing slogan for the product - 'Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar' - is deliberately being used to make consumers believe that the artificial sweetener contains sugar.
However, Johnson & Johnson, representing its subsidiary firm McNeil Nutritionals, requested a summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs had unreasonably delayed bringing suit.
United States District Dale Fischer rejected this request, saying that the claims against Johnson & Johnson should be heard by a jury at a trial on the merits.
The trial is now scheduled to begin on January 29, 2008.
According to Andy Briscoe, president and CEO of the Sugar Association, "this ruling will give consumers a chance to hear the facts in this case. Consumers have a right to know what they really are buying and an equal right not to have a big corporation try to tell them something else."
McNeil Nutritionals, which has faced similar accusations of misleading marketing on multiple occasions in the past, claims that its marketing slogans "are true and in no way state or imply that Splenda (…) contains actual sugar or is 'natural'".
This is not the first time the US sugar industry and McNeil Nutritionals have butted heads over the issue.
In November last year, the Sugar Association filed a complaint with the nation's Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requesting an investigation into the marketing of Splenda.
Prior to that, McNeil Nutritionals had filed a lawsuit against the Sugar Association, accusing it of false advertising in connection with a website it had established. The site, truthaboutsplenda.com publishes information about the sweetener, which the association claims comes from "many sources, including consumers who feel deceived by Splenda being advertised as tasting like sugar and being a natural product."
But a federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, dismissed the suit, stating that McNeil had no right to maintain an independent action.
McNeil has also come up against resistance from competitor Merisant, which sells the artificial sweeteners Equal and NutraSweet.
The two companies were earlier this year embroiled in a fierce court battle, which Merisant said was all about providing consumers with accurate information while also creating an "equal playing field" for manufacturers of other artificial sweeteners.
A settlement agreement was reached in May this year, although no information on the terms of the agreement was released.
A similar case between European subsidiaries of Merisant and McNeil in May resulted in an order for the use of the advertising slogans of Splenda to be banned in France.