Sugar industry sues corn industry in LA federal court, claiming false advertising

The U.S. produces nearly half of the world's corn.
The U.S. produces nearly half of the world's corn.
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A bitter battle over sweeteners is about to play out in a Los Angeles courtroom. The sugar industry is going head-to-head (and calorie-to-calorie) against the makers of corn syrup.

Take a look at any soda can (and yogurt tub, and ketchup bottle) and you'll see it in the ingredients list. High fructose corn syrup has spent the past few years slowly and steadily replacing cane sugar in many of the foods we buy.

So far, it’s been strictly a numbers game between the two big giants: the corn industry, and the sugar growers. But now, the sugar people are taking their competition to federal court, because of a series of two ads that end with the claim that "sugar is sugar."

“Whether its corn sugar or cane sugar," according to the Corn Refiners Association-sponsored ad, "your body can’t tell the difference."

That has sugar growers calling shenanigans. They claim that your body absolutely can tell the difference — and they can prove it, according to scientists who say high fructose corn syrup is absorbed faster and raises blood sugar much more quickly than cane sugar.

According to Adam Fox, an attorney for the sugar industry plaintiffs, corn industry promoters "characterize high fructose corn syrup as a natural product."

"It is not," he told the Los Angeles Times. "It is man-made. Yet they are advertising it as identical to sugar cane and sugar beets."

The corn industry says that high fructose-related health concerns are nonsense, claiming that calories, in any form, will cause you to gain weight.

Corn producers have also pointed out that total consumption of corn syrup in the U.S. has gone down, despite an increase in obesity rates.

Two years ago, the corn industry asked the Food And Drug Administration for permission to change the product’s name from "corn syrup" to "corn sugar."

The FDA says they're still deliberating, but have requested that the Corn Refiners Association stop using the terms interchangeably in the meantime.

"We request that you re-examine your websites and modify statements that use the term 'corn sugar' as a synonym for [high fructose corn syrup]," Barbara Schneeman, an FDA director, wrote in a memo obtained by AP in September 2011.

None of the wording of the ads or on the website has been changed.