A federal judge has ruled against a dismissal motion filed by corn industry attorneys who claimed their corn sugar advertising campaign is protected by free speech.
Corn industry attorneys argued that the lawsuit was an “attempt to stifle a national conversation about the merits of high fructose corn syrup versus sugar, and claimed educational campaigns from the Corn Refiners Association, which does not directly sell any products, cannot be branded advertising”.
The judge disregarded those claims.
“Plaintiffs have met their burden in showing a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements are false,” said U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, who presided over the lawsuit.
The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) previously submitted documents to the Mexican government in which they acknowledge the difference between HFCS and other forms of sugar; these documents became a “key piece of evidence”.
“There is evidence in the record indicating that Defendants have themselves made statements about the different chemical make-up between table sugar and HFCS,” Marshall wrote in her ruling.
“Plaintiffs have also submitted studies and papers that support its allegation that CRA’s claim that HFCS is sugar and/or natural is false and/or misleading.”
According to Fox News, Audrae Erickson, president of the Corn Refiners Association, praised the judge for granting a defense motion to drop individual corn companies as defendants, leaving only the trade association, and dismissing a part of the lawsuit claiming that the corn industry violated California law in addition to federal regulations.
Companies named as defendants included powerful global agri-giants like Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Corn Products International, Penford Products, Roquette America, Inc., Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas Inc., and the companies’ marketing and lobbying organization, The Corn Refiners Association Inc.
Earlier this year, The Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Co. and C&H Sugar Company filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against six corn processors and their lobbying group.
After their initial filing, five more sugar companies joined the lawsuit seeking to prevent the corn industry from marketing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as sugar.
Sugar farmers and refiners want the corn industry to stop marketing high-fructose corn syrup as a natural product, claiming it’s the same as sugar. They say the campaign constitutes false advertising and seek compensation for lost profits and corrective advertising.
“This suit is about false advertising, pure and simple,” said Inder Mathur, President and CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative, which represents American sugar beet farmers. “If consumers are concerned about your product, then you should improve it or explain its benefits, not try to deceive people about its name or distort scientific facts.”
Since public awareness regarding the health risks associated with HFCS has increased (HFCS is linked to obesity and diabetes, among other health issues), some food companies have begun to emphasis that their products don’t contain high fructose corn syrup — among them is Starbucks, Snapple, Kraft Foods.
Lawyers for the corn industry arguing for the dismissal said sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equivalent in how they are metabolized by the body.
But the corn industry lawyers’ claim is simply not true.
The extra metabolic step for fructose molecules is missing in HFCS, which is why a Princeton University research team concluded that excess fructose in HFCS is metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.