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Individual corn refiners will have to defend false advertising claims, court rules

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 01-Aug-2012

A US district court judge has ruled that individual corn refining companies will need to defend false advertising charges in an ongoing dispute over the industry’s right to describe high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as ‘corn sugar’.

Federal Judge Consuelo Marshall already dismissed in October last year all claims against individual member companies of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) – including ADM, Cargill, Corn Products International, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, among others – leaving the CRA as the only defendant.

However in March attorneys for the Sugar Association complained that individual companies were running away from the charges and were attempting to evade liability for their role in “the creation and sponsorship” of the CRA’s advertising campaign , which calls HFCS ‘corn sugar’ – a claim the sugar industry says is false advertising.

On Tuesday, Judge Marshall ruled that member companies would indeed have to face the charges.

She said in the ruling: “Plaintiffs allege with particularity facts for a false advertising claim against Member Companies ADM, Cargill, Corn Products, and Tate & Lyle.”

Responding to the decision, president of CRA Audrae Erickson said in a statement: “This ruling is solely about who is included in the lawsuit and has no bearing on the merits of the case which are about ensuring that consumers get the facts regarding high fructose corn syrup.”

FDA petition

The dispute began in 2010 when the CRA petitioned the FDA to allow ‘corn sugar’ as an alternative name for HFCS on food and beverage labels, on the grounds that many consumers (wrongly) believe that HFCS contains significantly more fructose and calories than sucrose.

It then followed up with its advertising campaign promoting ‘corn sugar’.

In May, the FDA rejected its petition to allow corn sugar as an alternative moniker on food labels, a decision that the CRA has argued should have no bearing on the current case.

‘Stifling competition’

“Our ultimate success will not only enable consumers to better understand the sugar content of their foods and beverages, it will send a powerful message to the Sugar Association and other business interests that you cannot stop consumer education as a means to stifle competition in the marketplace,” said Erickson.

Co-lead attorney for the sugar farmers, Adam Fox of Squire Sanders, called Tuesday’s ruling “an important win for all American consumers, as well as my clients.”

He said: “Judge Marshall’s ruling clears the way to allow this lawsuit to proceed so that we can assure an end to the false advertising and make the agribusiness giants behind it answer for their misconduct.  We look forward to taking the next steps in this important case.”

No trial date has yet been set.

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