Sugar Seeks Sweet Revenge Against Competition From Corn
They are the two bad boys of the American diet, linked to a variety of ailments including obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
But now sugar is taking high fructose corn syrup to court in a landmark battle over which is the greater evil.
In a lawsuit that goes before a Los Angeles federal judge Wednesday, sugar producers accuse their corn industry rivals of false advertising in a campaign that casts the liquid sweetener as “nutritionally the same as table sugar” and claims “your body can’t tell the difference.”
Sugar forces argue that high fructose corn syrup is far less healthy than their product and are demanding that the ads run by the Corn Refiners Assn. be halted and that the corn association pay unspecified monetary damages.
The corn industry promoters “characterize high fructose corn syrup as a natural product. It is not — it is man-made,” said Adam Fox, an attorney for the sugar industry plaintiffs, led by Western Sugar Corp. “Yet they are advertising it as identical to sugar cane and sugar beets.”
The lawsuit is likely to bring more scrutiny to high fructose corn syrup as its producers are trying to improve the sweetener’s image. The association representing corn growers, processors and distributors — including farm belt giants Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. — has applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to officially change the name of high fructose corn syrup to “corn sugar” for labeling purposes.
Concern about the health effects of the corn-based product began escalating about a decade ago, when the surgeon general first expressed alarm over the rapid and ubiquitous spread of the sweetener in processed foods.
But more recently, the debate has unfolded in popular culture. In a “Saturday Night Live” skit last spring, actresses Kristen Wiig and Nasim Pedrad played mothers arguing over the sweet red drink being served at a children’s birthday party. Pedrad defends high fructose corn syrup, and her argument seems to be winning until her grossly overweight daughter — played by Bobby Moynihan — emerges from the background. “Parks and Recreation” and “The Simpsons” have also spoofed the sweetener dispute.
In court papers, the sugar industry says the nation’s soaring rise in obesity and diabetes has dovetailed with the penetration of the synthesized corn sweetener in soft drinks, condiments, bread, cookies, jam and syrups.
The corn forces respond that there is nothing dishonest about their advertising and that they will prove it in court.
“It is wrong for the refined sugar industry to try to stifle this truthful speech,” said Dan K. Webb, lead attorney for the corn refiners.