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Judge Deals Blow to High Fructose Corn Syrup Makers

A (magical unicorn) sugar cookie
A (magical unicorn) sugar cookie

Sugar farmers won a major legal victory on Aug. 5 against high fructose corn syrup mega-manufacturers who have been trying to claim that high fructose corn syrup is nutritionally the same as table sugar," "natural" and really just "corn sugar."

The Western Sugar Cooperative, a group of sugar farmers, sued Archer-Daniels-Midland, Co. in April 2011 to try to get the agribusiness giant to stop making such claims in TV and print advertising. In its national marketing campaign, Archer-Daniels etc. also claimed "sugar is sugar" and "your body can't tell the difference."

Archer-Daniels-Midland countersued the sugar farmers in 2012, accusing the Sugar Association, one of the plaintiffs, of having published editorial statements and third-party commentaries distinguishing HFCS from sugar based on scientific research. Then, in May the corn processors tried to amend that counterclaim by suing all of the plaintiffs for these activities and seeking punitive damages. (How dare they use science!)

However, U.S. District Court Judge Consuelo B. Marshall in Los Angeles quickly slapped them down, denying their “eleventh-hour” request to pursue claims against the other sugar producers. It seems the judge saw this move as just a delaying tactic, noting that the defendants had had "18 months" to add the other sugar producers to their complaint.

Adam Fox, co-lead counsel for the sugar farmers, said, "It was the right result, and now paves the way for us to prepare for trial without further delays or distractions." If the sugar manufacturers win their case, the high fructose corn syrup makers will be forced to stop making such claims.

In a one-two punch, the FDA also recently rejected efforts by the Corn Refiners Assn. to allow the name "corn sugar" as an alternative to HFCS on ingredient labels. Judge Marshall had ruled on an earlier motion that the plaintiff sugar farmers had presented evidence demonstrating "a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements (made by the corn processors) are false."

The CRA is desperate to rebrand HFCS as an all-natural, healthful alternative to table sugar. It even debuted a new website, originally called “CornSugar.com.” After the FDA smackdown, the site is now called SweetSurprise. Some of the "surprises" the site reveals are that “High fructose corn syrup is nearly identical in composition to table sugar” and “Eating sugar in moderation can be a healthy part of your diet.”

HFCS has been blamed for all sorts of health ills, from the upswing in type 2 diabetes to the U.S. obesity surge. A 2007 Rutgers University study found that, in comparison with sodas sweetened with traditional sugar (sucrose), sodas sweetened with the low-cost, highly processed sugar substitute contained up to 10 times more harmful carbonyl compounds — substances previously linked to serious health complications in people with diabetes.

Two separate U.S. studies in 2009 found trace amounts of poisonous mercury in a high percentage of HFCS samples, left over from the complicated chemical process used to turn corn into HFCS. In 2010, a Princeton University study found that rats fed HFCS gained significantly more weight than rats fed water sweetened with table sugar. And there are many more studies. 

It’s clear that the sugar farmers can’t wait to present their evidence in court. Let’s hope that includes cookies.  
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