The Sugar Wars Are Heating Up: Sugar Manufacturers Sue High Fructose Corn Syrup Industry

Last fall, the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) kicked off a $30 million advertising and public relations campaign in an attempt to convince people that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is no worse than cane sugar. Emphasizing the fact that it is made from corn (and therefore “natural”) and that it is fine in moderation, the CRA also tried to rebrand HFCS as “corn sugar.”

The Sugar Wars

A high intake of sugar in any form is obviously unhealthy. However, which types of sugar are okay in moderation is up for debate…or war.

The CRA is trying to convince consumers that consuming sugar in moderation, whether it is “corn sugar” (HFCS) or another form of sugar, is essentially the same thing (“sugar is sugar”). Nutrition experts like Marion Nestle say that HFCS is biochemically about the same as cane sugar (source: Time).

According to Advertising Age, the sugar industry does not agree. Sugar producers are accusing the corn industry of “seeking to ‘co-opt the goodwill’ of the phrase ‘sugar.’” Furthermore, they attack claims about HFCS being “natural,” pointing to the fact that there is “no naturally occuring fructose in corn or corn starch” and also that there are “clear molecular differences.”

Nutritionist Dr. Jonny Bowden recently wrote an article called The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup for the Allergy Kids Foundation. In his article, he uses an analogy to make his point: “The difference between fructose in an apple and fructose in a soda is the difference between a beautiful fur coat on a wild fox and that same fur on the back of a lady at the opera. It’s gorgeous on its original owner (the fox). But on the lady? Not so much.” At the end of the easy-to-read article, he concludes that the problem is the pervasiveness of HFCS. Because it is so cheap, it is everywhere. Sweeteners are now being added to products that do not need to be sweetened and they are also being added in larger quantitites because it is so inexpensive to do so.

Sugar Industry Sues the Corn Industry

At the end of April, Reuters reported that a group of sugar producers had filed a lawsuit against the corn industry, claiming that they are using false advertising. In their lawsuit, they claim that slogans used by the corn industry, such as “your body can’t tell the difference” are misleading.

According to Treehugger, Inder Mathur, President and CEO of Western Sugar Cooperative said that “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.”

The initial lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles in April, listed Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Co. and C&H Sugar Company as the plaintiffs. As of May 31, BevNet was reporting that several more companies and organizations had joined the lawsuit, including Imperial Sugar Company, the U.S. Sugar Corp., the Sugar Association, and the American Sugar Cane League. The defendents in this case, representing the corn industry, include Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland Co.

The lawsuit, according to John Sheptor from Imperial Sugar Co. is “taking a stand to challenge this marketing ploy for what it is.” The “corn sugar” industry is standing its ground.

Who Will Prevail?

It will be interesting to watch the outcome of this lawsuit. If the sugar manufacturers are successful, this will be a major setback in the extremely expensive marketing campaign launched by the HFCS producers. However, if they are not successful, what does that mean? It certainly wouldn’t mean that highly processed foods made with HFCS are healthy, although if they are granted ongoing permission to make deceptive claims about their product, people may perceive it that way.

Ultimately, regardless of the outcome, consumers in North America are likely to continue to face way too many products laden with excessive amounts of HFCS. The fact that I cannot walk into a regular grocery store and find a single HFCS-free granola bar for my kids to take to school is a testament to the pervasiveness of HFCS. Lawsuit or not lawsuit, until consumers start to demand better or regulators jump in to limit its use, HFCS is not going anywhere.

Related Stories:

If It’s Called “Corn Sugar,” NOT High Fructose Corn Syrup, Is It Better?

Corn Syrup Lobby Courts Mommybloggers, Gets Spanked

Who Owns the Rights to the Food You Eat?

Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.

Photo credit: gruntzooki on flickr


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Jo S.
Jo S3 years ago

Thank you Annie.

Ellie Damann
.7 years ago

ban hfcs

Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago

I can't stand corn syrup/ high fructose corn syrup! It's like a widespread disease in the food industry. I justifiably get angry when I see a product I would like to try and turn it around to find that it has corn syrup at the top of the ingredients list. I find it infuriating. It's beyond unnecessary, it's extremely harmful to the body. I get the most upset when I pick up all natural or organic products that contain "organic" corn syrup--what's the point? I would be oh so ecstatic if corn syrup were done away with entirely. Oh, that would be the day...

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

Please explain to me why we need high fructose corn syrup in everything. Aside from killing us does it really serve any purpose.

Abbe A.
Azaima A7 years ago

pick your poison

Christine S.

I think we need to stop romanticizing "cane" sugar- most of the workers on sugar cane plantations are very poorly paid and mistreated. I would opt for beet sugar rather than cane sugar if given an option, and I would avoid hfcs because it is so highly refined.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Too many products have too much sugar and/or corn syrup. Either way, it's not good for your blood sugars. Both have a time and a place.

Lepidopter Phoenyx

What worries me is that if the corn lobby manages to get legal clearance to call high fructose corn syrup "corn sugar" on food labels, it won't be long before they will be able to simply callit "sugar." After all, if REAL sugar is an ingredient, it isn't required that the label indicate whether it came from sugar cane or beets. I also foresee the same fight that dairies who choose no to dose their cows are facing hitting the sugar industry. Dairies who label their milk "rBGH-free" are being challenged by dairies who claim that there is no difference in the milk from dosed and undosed cows, and that the label prejudices consumers against producets not labled "hormone-free." If products made with real sugar start sporting labels that read "cane sugar" or "beet sugar" to differentiate them from "corn sugar," look for the same objections.

Cheryl W.
Cheryl W7 years ago

I think if people want to eat HFCS, that's up to them. I don't care what my neighbor eats, but I would like to see him with a job so he can support his family.....