Sugar War Ends After Sides Reach Secret Settlement
Los Angeles — The sugar and corn industries ended their billion-dollar bitter battle over sweeteners Friday in a secret out-of-court settlement.
Both sides announced the deal that puts an end to a trial that began nearly three weeks ago in Los Angeles federal court pitting sugar against high fructose corn syrup.
The arch-rivals sugar-coated their acrimony in a settlement statement that announced their commitments to “practices that encourage safe and healthful use of their products, including moderation in the consumption of table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.”
Sugar processors were seeking $1.5 billion in a false-advertising claim against corn refiners and agribusinesses giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill after they tried to rebrand their publicity-plagued product as “corn sugar.”
Western Sugar Cooperative and other sugar processors claimed they lost money when corn refiners launched a “sugar is sugar” ad campaign that stated, “Your body can’t tell the difference.”
Corn refiners and the companies countersued for $530 million, saying they lost that much after the sugar industry made false and misleading statements that included a comment that high fructose corn syrup was as addictive as crack cocaine.
They blamed the sugar industry for being behind the “junk science” that associated the product with diabetes and obesity.
Big Sugar and Big Corn have battled in the marketplace since the 1970s when high fructose corn syrup was introduced as a cheaper alternative to sugar.
The fortunes for corn began slipping when studies in the mid-2000s began connecting the product to health problems such as obesity.
Corn refiners launched the ad campaign to support its bid before the Food and Drug Administration to change the name to “corn sugar.”
The FDA rejected the request in 2012, finding that sugar was a solid, dried and crystallized food, not syrup.
Although some consumers remain passionate about the value of one product over the other, science has determined they are nearly identical and are metabolized the same way, said Roger A. Clemens, a University of Southern California research professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical science.
Sugar is sucrose, which is half fructose, half glucose. High fructose corn syrup is typically 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
The trial had presented a chance for jurors to weigh in on the vexing debate and favor one sweetener over the other after years of dispute in the court of public opinion over the evils of both sweeteners. A big win by one side over the other could have had an impact beyond any jury award.
In recent years, big companies, such Hunt’s ketchup and Capri Sun juices, have switched to sugar from high fructose corn syrup.
Attorney Mark Lanier, who represented sugar processors, predicted before the trial that other companies could follow suit if he won.
“I think both sides will get massive PR out of the win or the loss,” he said. “Good PR or bad PR. Both sides have a lot hanging on it.”