The dispute began in April 2011 when sugar refiners and farmers filed a false advertising lawsuit against leading corn refiners accusing them of deceiving the public with a media campaign promoting HFCS as nutritionally equivalent to sucrose (table sugar) and proposing the alternate name 'corn sugar'.
Processed sugar and HFCS are nutritionally equivalent
However, CRA members ADM, Cargill, Ingredion and Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas hit back this week, each filing counter claims accusing The Sugar Association of false advertising and commercial disparagement under the Lanham Act.
For example, The Sugar Association had posted an article by Dr. John McElligott on its website in January making the false claim that “your body does not recognize HFCS as a sugar so your pancreas does not react with a burst of insulin as it would with sugar or sucrose and put some of it to work”, said the corn refiners.
Americans should be consuming less of all added sugars
Dr McElligott's allegation that ‘HFCS goes to the liver and starts the process that can lead to non-alcoholic fatty disease’ is also “literally false”, they added.
“The Sugar Association’s statements deceive consumers into believing that they will be healthier if they consume foods and beverages with processed sugar instead of HFCS.
“These statements are false because processed sugar and HFCS are nutritionally equivalent, as evidenced by a basic knowledge of metabolism, peer-reviewed and published reports and experiments, and widespread agreement among medical, nutritional, and scientific experts.
“Americans should be consuming less of all added sugars, whether the source be processed sugar, HFCS, or any other kind of added sugar.”
Meanwhile, the effect of the misinformation about HFCS meant consumers might be more likely to opt for sugar and manufacturers might switch from HFCS to sugar to address consumers' concerns, said the corn refiners, who are seeking damages.
"Counterclaim Plaintiffs’ damages include actual damages in the form of price erosion and lost profits stemming from artificially reduced demand caused by The Sugar Association’s false and misleading advertising; the cost of corrective advertising; and goodwill damages."
Sugar Association: ‘This is absurd, but not surprising'
But attorney Adam Fox, a partner at law firm Squire Sanders, which is representing the Sugar Association, told FoodNavigator-USA that the statements to which the corn refiners objected were made by third party experts that were basing their comments on peer-reviewed research.
He said: "It has been a consistent theme of theirs [corn refiners] to try and deny the realities about their product.
"It's absurd but it's not surprising and is consistent with their own media campaign about HFCS, which denies the facts. First they try to change its name [by unsuccessfully petitioning the FSA to allow corn sugar as an alternative name for HFCS ] and now they are trying to blame the Sugar Association for the problems that scientists have identified about HFCS."
He added: "We will vigorously defend the Sugar Association but we must not lose sight of the fact that we commenced this lawsuit and will vigorously prosecute our claims and look forward to presenting still more evidence to support them."
HFCS 55, which is used in soft drinks, contains 55% fructose with the balance made up mostly by glucose; while HFCS 42, which is used in foods, contains about 42% fructose with the balance mostly comprising glucose. Table sugar (sucrose) contains 50:50 glucose and fructose.