American sugar farmers and refiners have filed a suit to stop big corn processors from marketing high-fructose corn syrup as a "natural" product equivalent to real sugar.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles by Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Co. and C & H Sugar Co. Inc., charges that the "corn sugar" branding campaign financed by the corn refining industry's giant companies constitutes false advertising under federal and state law. The processors' campaign was launched as a way to thwart declining sales of high-fructose corn syrup, or "HFCS."
Companies named as defendants include Archer Daniels Midland Company, Cargill Inc., Corn Products International Inc., Penford Products Co., Roquette America Inc., Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas Inc. and the companies' marketing and lobbying organization, The Corn Refiners Association Inc.
"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 sugar producers seek an injunction to end the advertising campaign and also seek damages, including compensation for corrective advertising.
According to the complaint, consumers have increasingly sought to avoid food and drinks containing HFCS, because of its possible role in the obesity epidemic and other nutritional and health problems, or simply to avoid non-natural ingredients. As a result, food and beverage makers have been replacing HFCS with real sugar, and the corn refining industry has seen HFCS sales steadily decline.
The sugar producers charge the defendants with trying to resuscitate HFCS sales through a marketing blitz aimed at changing consumer perceptions of HFCS by equating it with real sugar. The defendants are attempting to do so, allege the sugar producers, by marketing HFCS as a natural sugar that is simply extracted from corn, which is not true.
While the corn refining industry has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval to substitute "corn sugar" for "high-fructose corn syrup" on ingredient labels, the sugar-producing plaintiffs assert that the defendants did not even wait for the FDA's response before beginning their "corn sugar" branding efforts. The complaint states that "Defendants' resort to such literally false and misleading statements harms consumers, harms the makers of real sugar and harms any dialogue based on the truth. This lawsuit seeks to put an end to the deception."