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Sugar vs. High Fructose Corn Syrup: Court Battle Begins

A little sugar in your bowl?
A little sugar in your bowl?

This morning in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, a bitter legal battle begins over identity. In one corner, a coalition of table sugar producers complaining about false advertising and attempted "food identity theft." In the other, high fructose corn syrup producers trying desperately to rebrand their vilified product as "corn sugar." Will the real sugar please stand up?

The not-so-sweet showdown kicks off in the courtroom of judge Consuelo B. Marshall in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. At issue is a high profile (if somewhat risible) campaign touting the "natural" qualities of high fructose corn syrup, a common sweetener in crackers, cereal, soda pop and numerous processed foods.

HFCS has in recent years become public health enemy #1, blamed, in part, for obesity, heart disease, dental cavities and poor nutrition. To combat sinking sales, the Corn Refiners Association, the lobbying arm of Big Corn, began the long process of petitioning the FDA to substitute "corn sugar" for "high-fructose corn syrup" on ingredient labels.

Crying foul, a coalition of sugar farmers led by C&H Sugar Company has filed suit in what it claims is a battle to save health-conscious Americans from false advertising. The defendants include Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas and the Corn Refiners Association.

Ultimately, this lawsuit is as much about health as a Playmate reality show is about math skills. This is a fatuous battle between Big Sugar and Big Corn over which iteration of an unhealthy, possibly toxic product is slightly less bad for you.

Today's op-ed in The Los Angeles Times has it right: "When it comes to how the human body metabolizes glucose, fructose, sucrose and the like, dietitians say the corn refiners have it mostly right: Sugar is sugar. It's a source of empty calories; one isn't more healthful than another, and Americans consume too much of it, period."

Sugar = bad. Does that clear things up for you?


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