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High Fructose Corn Syrup Lawsuit Goes Another Round

Words by Leon Kaye

According to one of my dictionaries, this is the definition of sugar:

sugar | sh-ŏgər: (noun)

1 a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, esp. sugar cane and sugar beet, consisting essentially of sucrose, and used as a sweetener in food and drink.

2 Biochemistry any of the class of soluble, crystalline, typically sweet-tasting carbohydrates found in living tissues and exemplified by glucose and sucrose.

Well, I know sugar.  Sugar is a good friend (often foe) of mine.  And high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), you are no sugar.

Watching the the sugar industry and the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) duke it out in court over whether HCFS should be rebranded as “corn sugar,” or not, makes for great theater.  The war of words and litigation are analogous to small market baseball team fans making the choice between rooting for the Yankees or Red Sox: neither is appealing.

Now we have a fight in the courts over what can be called sugar or not.  Watch for the sweetener wars to become even more exciting as various industry groups defend their respective turfs.
The two trade associations and their allies are entangled in litigation that began when the CRA decided that it would rebrand HCFS as “corn sugar” to circumvent HCFS' bad reputation.  The tussle began earlier this year when the CRA lobbied the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to permit the name change.  Because of consumer concern, the CRA would prefer the label “corn sugar.” The corn lobby has a poor record of transparency on the manufacture of HFCS and people are concerned about what's in it. Since "corn sugar" sounds like a different product than HFCS, the Western Sugar Cooperative was one plaintiff that took the CRA to court over allegations of false advertising and deception.

So far the sugar association is ahead in the litigation contest.  On Friday, U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall ruled against the CRA with two opinions stating the lawsuit against corn processors must go forward.

Not that the sugar industry is a victim.  Sugar companies in any form are more concerned with protecting their business than taking care of their customers.  One quick visit to The Sugar Association’s site admonishes us that sugar’s role in the obesity epidemic is overstated.  Sugar companies have the right to protect their turf, but any doctor will tell you that over-consumption of sugar, which has been increasing for years, is a huge factor in chronic diseases from obesity to diabetes.  What consumers need is clear recommendations based on scientific facts, not public relations or marketing jargon.

Who will win the sugar litigation is anyone’s guess.  A dictionary definition, scientific explanation, or common knowledge will not necessarily hold up in court.  CRA has the concept of “free speech” behind them while the sugar industry can cite regulatory precedents.  No matter who wins, the real loser will be consumers unless they are proactive, learn about sugar’s effect on health, and choose the best foods for themselves and their families--because the trade associations cannot and should not make those choices for us.

Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of GreenGoPost.com and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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