Sugar cane and sugar beet growers have filed an amended complaint in federal court charging that corporate members of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) - makers of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - are behind a "conspiracy" deliberately designed to "deceive the public."
Specifically, the amended complaint, filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleges that senior executives of agribusiness conglomerates, including Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill and others "organize[d] collectively in order to dominate and ... control" the ongoing marketing campaign to rename HFCS as "corn sugar." Their national advertising campaign also claims that HFCS is a "natural" product equivalent to real sugar from cane and beet plants. The sugar farmers argue that those claims are untrue.
Last month, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that a coalition of American sugar farmers and producers had provided sufficient evidence about the HFCS advertising campaign by the CRA to demonstrate "a reasonable probability of success" in proving that its key claims are false.
The amended complaint charges that the CRA member companies, under the guise of the CRA, provided "the funding that has been required to orchestrate and maintain this significant, broad-based, national media, multi-million dollar advertising campaign."
The lawsuit argues the CRA and several of its members, including Archer-Daniels-Midland, Cargill, Corn Products International, Roquette America and Tate & Lyle Ingredients America, conspired to engage in false advertising as part of their campaign.
The sugar farmers allege that the defendants have spent at least $50 million in a mass media rebranding campaign that misleads the consuming public by asserting falsely that HFCS is natural and is indistinguishable from the sugar extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets.
The HFCS manufacturers, through the CRA, have also asked the Food & Drug Administration to allow HFCS to be called "corn sugar" on food and beverage ingredient labels. That request was made last fall even though "corn sugar" has for many decades been the FDA-approved, commonly used name for dextrose, a distinct corn starch product that contains no fructose.
A recent consumer survey commissioned by the sugar farmers shows that changing the name of HFCS to "corn sugar" would further confuse consumers and interfere with their attempts to avoid HFCS when shopping for themselves and their families. Increasingly, consumers have sought to avoid products containing HFCS because of a wide range of health concerns.
"Let's be clear about what is at stake here. This litigation is about false advertising funded by CRA's biggest members," said Adam Fox of Squire Sanders, lead attorney for the sugar growers. "Sugar cane and beet farmers want the defendants to stop their false and misleading statements that harm consumers, harm the makers of real sugar and harm any dialogue based on the truth. This lawsuit seeks to put an end to the intentional deception."