Latest News on HFCS Corn "Sugar" False Advertising Case - Hearing Set in Los Angeles

Sugar Growers Accuse Corn Refiners Association (CRA), ADM and Cargill with False Advertising
When: March 21, 2012 – Hearing starts at 9:00 am and is expected to last for about an hour.

What: This hearing is an important battle for all American consumers and will take place in federal Judge Consuelo Marshall’s courtroom in Los Angeles. As I have blogged about in the past, a coalition of sugar farmers’ cooperatives and other sugar producers have accused the agribusiness conglomerates Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill and others of falsely advertising high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a natural product no different from real sugar.

Currently, the CRA is ready to go to court but the defendant companies are seeking to dismiss the lawsuit to escape liability by arguing misleadingly that the challenged advertising is run by their trade association, and not directly by them.

Where:          Courtroom of Judge Consuelo Marshall
                      312 N. Spring Street
                      Court Room 2 – 2nd Floor

Agribusiness giants Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill and others who produce high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are once again returning to federal court in an attempt to escape responsibility for falsely advertising HFCS as the same as natural sugar.  Sugar farmers and other sugar producers have filed a complaint in Los Angeles federal court that charges that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) and its corporate members that produce high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), including Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill and others, have engaged in a “conspiracy” deliberately designed to “deceive the public” about the nature of HFCS.

The complaint alleges that CRA’s member companies initiated, funded and controlled the advertising—and reaped exclusively its benefits—through their domination of and placement of high-ranking executives on CRA’s governing board, and by reserving the right (which they actually exercised) to subject CRA’s decisions about the advertising campaign to company approval.  The complaint contends that the makers of HFCS engaged in this enterprise to control advertising misleading to the public in an effort to counter mounting negative publicity and consumer perceptions about HFCS.

American consumption of high-fructose corn syrup fell to a 20-year low last year.

Amazingly, the complaint also charges that the challenged advertising campaign characterizes HFCS as a “natural” product although it “has been commercially available only since the late 1960s, when Japanese researchers discovered a method of enzymatically transforming some of the glucose in corn syrup into fructose that does not naturally occur in the [corn] plant.”

The complaint also alleges that the advertising campaign attempts to “rebrand” HFCS as “corn sugar,” which is “the approved label for a real and distinct corn starch product” governed by FDA regulations.  Additionally, the complaint contends that the advertising campaign equates HFCS to sugar despite “clear molecular differences between HFCS and sugar and clear differences in how the human body processes them,” potentially linking consumption of HFCS to a variety of health problems.
This conclusion was lent scientific support by a recent study published online in Metabolism, last December, which showed that compared with sucrose (otherwise known as  table sugar) HFCS leads to greater fructose systemic exposure and significantly different acute metabolic effects. 

Late last year, Judge Marshall reviewed some preliminary submissions of evidence and issued an order stating that the plaintiff sugar farmers had demonstrated “a reasonable probability of success” in proving these advertising claims are false. Although finally after much legal wrangling the CRA is now prepared to face these allegations, the lawsuit alleges that its largest corporate members are seeking to avoid liability by hiding behind the trade association they have sponsored with “special assessments” earmarked to finance the challenged advertising in excess of $50 million—many multiples of CRA’s ordinary operating revenue.

More recently, researchers reported online February 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have discovered that fructose (found in fruit, honey and HFCS) can rev up the body’s secretion of insulin by exciting the taste cells on the pancreas.  This is a concern for people prone to diabetes like men, those who suffer from depression, people who do not get enough sleep, certain ethnic groups and those who are overweight.

Kathleen Melanson of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, who was not involved in the study said," “It’s amazing how much people consume — there’s a lot hidden, in things like stuffing and salad dressings.” Melanson says that the amount of fructose found in a spoonful of honey or an apple aren’t of concern, “but our metabolic pathways aren’t designed to handle Big Gulps."

I will continue to keep you posted on this story.

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