The sugar companies and associations said that they joined the suit because they have witnessed increased confusion and frustration among consumers who are reacting to the high-fructose corn syrup industry's mass-media rebranding campaign.
"The corn processors have been trying to mislead consumers for more than two years and now claim in their public statements and advertising that a name change would more 'accurately describe' high-fructose corn syrup," said John Sheptor, president and CEO of Imperial Sugar Company. "The attempted name change is an intentional effort to deceive consumers, and most disingenuously, it's being done under the guise of consumer clarity. We are taking a stand to challenge this marketing ploy for what it is."
The corn processing industry petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last fall for approval to substitute "corn sugar" for "high-fructose corn syrup" on ingredient labels. However, long before then, the industry launched its "corn sugar" rebranding effort. According to the lawsuit, "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."
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, charges that the "corn sugar" rebranding campaign financed by the corn processing industry's giant companies constitutes false advertising under federal and state law. The suit argues that the processors' $50 million campaign was launched as a way to stem declining sales of high-fructose corn syrup.
In addition to the Sugar Association and the American Sugar Cane League, American Sugar Refining, Amalgamated Sugar Company, Imperial Sugar Company, Minn-Dak Farmers Cooperative and the United States Sugar Corporation joined the lawsuit. Original plaintiffs include Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Company and C&H Sugar Company Inc.
Companies named as defendants include Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, and the companies' lobbying and promotional organization, The Corn Refiners Association.
"Petitioning the FDA for permission to change the name of high-fructose corn syrup to 'corn sugar' shows that the corn processors prefer to mislead consumers rather than address the negative public perception issues with their product," Sheptor said. "With the FDA moving deliberately, the corn processors have now resorted to lobbying members of Congress and Administration officials to influence the FDA's decision-making process in favor of their petition. These efforts to politicize the FDA process only serve to undermine a balanced scientific review by the agency. This threatens both the integrity and public trust of what should be a deliberative scientific process."
The suit asks for an injunction to end the advertising campaign and undetermined damages, including compensation for corrective advertising.
According to the complaint, consumers have increasingly sought to avoid food and drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup because of its possible connection to nutritional and health problems, or simply to avoid non-natural ingredients.
The sugar producers charge the defendants with trying to resuscitate high-fructose corn syrup sales through a marketing blitz aimed at changing consumer perceptions by marketing it as a natural sugar that is simply extracted from corn, which is untrue.
"We are taking all steps necessary to end this deception and ensure that the information on our food labels remains truthful and accurate for all consumers, but most importantly, the Moms that are looking to purchase foods and beverages for their families," Sheptor said.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Corn Refiners Association directed readers to its prior statement on the matter - http://www.preparedfoods.com/articles/cra-responds-to-california-sugar-lawsuit.
From the May 25, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.