Update: Big Corn cites discredited argument in seeking dismissal of HFCS case

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September 5, 2013

Last week, three of the defendants in a groundbreaking case against the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup filed an “expected” motion to dismiss, making claims that sounds an awful lot like the “sugar is sugar” commercials put out by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) that flooded the airwaves for several years.

In June, Buffalo, N.Y. attorney J. Michael Hayes filed a civil action against six manufacturers of HFCS for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries on behalf of a Buffalo-area woman and her teenage daughter who has type-2 diabetes.

Hayes said in a phone interview Wednesday that while the motion was fully anticipated, he’s “not real impressed with it. They claim that we cannot prove that HFCS caused her diabetes because there are so many different known causes of diabetes.

“Our response to that is that we don’t need to prove that HFCS was the sole cause of the girl’s diabetes, only that it was a significant factor.”

And as far as obesity is concerned, Hayes said “there are a lot of obese people who have diabetes (but) there is no scientific proof that shows that obesity causes diabetes. What you have is correlation, not causation.”

Referring to to the motion to dismiss as “scientifically lax,” Hayes noted that the defendants claim “HFCS is very similar to sugar, with the motion stating that ‘the sweetener is a blend of roughly equal parts fructose and glucose that is similar to sucrose.’” In attempting to show similarity, he contended, “they are admitting therefore that it’s different. I think that’s either a weak argument or a concession.”

One distinct difference is the fact that the amount of fructose in HFCS is typically higher than sugar, and in some cases, as high as 90 percent.  That revelation is what has spurred Citizens for Health to petition the Food and Drug Administration to require that products containing HFCS have the actual amount of fructose specified on the label, since high fructose consumption is associated with a wide variety of health problems. (To sign the Citizens for Health petition, go here, to read it, go here).

Yet, the CRA’s mantra, that HFCS and real sugar are akin to twins separated at birth, is one it has continued to push even though numerous scientific studies have shown distinct differences between the test-tube sweetener and real sugar, or sucrose. And despite the Food and Drug Administration’s decisive thumbs down last year to the corn refiners’ attempt to have HFCS officially renamed “corn sugar,” they also can’t seem to give up on their name claim to “sugar,” continuing to refer to HFCS as “simply a form of sugar made from corn” on the CRA Sweet Surprise website.

Hayes interest in pursuing a case against HFCS developed from what he describes as having “filtered” out of a health and nutrition conference he attended with his wife, a nurse and nutrition counselor, last year. He told us in an initial interview in June that the industry’s argument that HFCS is the same as sugar “is not true…it has a different metabolic effect,” adding “if you make HFCS and you know it’s going to be consumed and you know it has the potential to cause illness and disease, then you have to place a warning on (products containing) it.”

On Wednesday, he cited a type of defense used by pharmaceutical companies when they are sued for adverse effects from an FDA-approved drug: that individuals can’t receive the drug unless it is prescribed by a ‘knowing’ individual, a physician. “Here we’ve got a food additive, and the motivation to use it is not because you’ve got an illness, but because of the television commercials on Saturday mornings – that’s what the kids want,” Hayes maintained, pointing out that “there is no learned intermediary” involved.

“I wouldn’t have taken the case unless I though it was good and solid,” he added. “I only get paid if I win, although this is also in some degree to help society.”

Linda Bonvie