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US food industry wages bitter fight over sweeteners

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1688 (Published 20 February 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g1688
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

Internal company documents made public in a lawsuit between US sugar and corn companies have shown how the food industry has spent tens of millions of dollars to sway public opinion and capture market share—“spinning” research results and backing ostensibly independent consumer groups to attack competitors.

The Sugar Association—a trade association based in Washington, DC—and a group of large US sugar producers filed the lawsuit in 2011 against major producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and their industry trade group, the Corn Refiners Association.

The sugar companies charged that the corn refining companies, in a bid to halt a decline in HFCS sales, had conducted a “false and misleading” publicity campaign portraying HFCS as a natural product that was nutritionally the same as sugar—including changing its name to “corn sugar.”

The sugar companies argued that HFCS was not a natural product but a manmade one that was metabolized differently from sugar, which derives from sugar cane and sugar beet. By claiming that the two products were the same the HFCS producers sought to “co-opt the goodwill of ‘sugar,’” the lawsuit claimed.

The suit called for the court to order the HFCS producers to halt their publicity efforts and to pay damages for any financial losses the sugar companies claimed to have suffered from the efforts to rebrand HFCS as a natural product equivalent to sugar.

The HFCS producers called …

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