Faced with lawsuit, HFCS makers try to disown ads for their own product

Posted by
March 22, 2012

If you’re annoyed by those commercials and ads from the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) touting high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as being “nutritionally the same as sugar,” and claiming that “your body can’t tell the difference” between the two,  just imagine how the sugar industry is reacting.

While the mega-million-dollar ad campaign portraying HFCS as a “natural” product that’s “simply a sugar made from corn” has been the butt of considerable satire, including a skit on Saturday Night Live, the producers of actual sugar don’t find it funny at all. In fact, they’ve taken the CRA to court to answer to charges of false advertising.

Last year, sugar growers and refiners filed a complaint in Los Angeles federal court alleging that the CRA and its member companies, such as HFCS producer Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill have conspired to “deceive the public” about the test-tube sweetener.  Yesterday, the makers of HFCS were back in court, asking the judge to dismiss the portion of the case against them, claiming the CRA was solely responsible for the ad campaign proclaiming that “sugar is sugar.”

The complaint alleges that the member companies are “seeking to avoid liability by hiding behind the trade association they have sponsored….in excess of $50 million” to fund the campaign.

Mark Lanier, an attorney representing the sugar plaintiffs, characterizes the CRA member defendants as being “five companies that have joined together and put a front between them and the public so people don’t realize who the puppet master is pulling the strings behind these false advertisements,” adding, “We want to show who the real people are that are doing this fraud.”

The CRA ignores an order from the FDA

While attorneys for the corn refiners try to characterize the commercials as “truthful speech” that the Sugar Association is trying to “stifle,” last October it was the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that asked the CRA to stifle itself. In a letter released by the Associated Press, the FDA asked the corn trade group to stop using “corn sugar” as a synonym for high fructose corn syrup and to “re-examine your websites and modify statement that use the term.”

In 2011 the CRA submitted a petition asking the FDA to allow “corn sugar” to appear on food labels instead of HFCS (which is still sitting at the agency). Not wanting to waste any time in getting the campaign going, the CRA forged ahead and started its deceptive rebranding effort (despite the fact that “corn sugar” refers to an entirely different product called dextrose, something that contains NO fructose).  And although the FDA asked that they stop swapping out the corn sugar name in place of HFCS over five months ago, it appears the CRA is still using the term just as much as before — if not more.

Citizens for Health Board Chairman James Turner, in a recent Los Angeles Times article about the “corn sugar” name switch, was quoted as saying, “we are arguing that the public understands that it (HFCS)  and sugar are different things and to try to cloud that over is a mistake. All we want is for the public to be able to distinguish a product they don’t want to buy.”

The Corn Refiners Association, however, has continued to use the “sugar made from corn” mantra over and over again, perhaps on the theory that if you repeat a falsehood often enough, it becomes true. But no amount of repetition will turn HFCS into something it’s not, and if the legal action by the sugar growers and producers succeeds, the CRA will be asked to halt this annoying ad campaign once and for all.

How you can get involved!

If you don’t feel like heading out to southern California to see how the case is going, you can still be a part of the issue by giving your opinion on this corn sugar scam to the FDA. As long as the FDA docket is open, you still have a chance to speak your mind about the proposed name change  to “corn sugar,” what we call a classic case of attempted food identity theft.

Click here to send your comments to the FDA. You can copy and paste some sample messages from this page, or compose one of your own.

Remember “corn sugar” is actually dextrose, a long-recognized product that contains NO fructose. And “sugar,” one of the oldest natural sweeteners, can only come from sugar cane or sugar beets. So please tell the FDA to reject this ridiculous attempt to conceal HFCS on packaging. You can say, “Food Identity Theft sent me!”