It’s looking to be a bitter legal battle for the nation’s sweet tooth as the sugar industry and the corn syrup industry fight over each other’s healthfulness claims.
On Wednesday (November 4), attorney W. Mark Lanier, representing sugar industry plaintiffs, and attorney Dan Webb, representing corn refiners, faced off in the trial opener in a Los Angeles federal courtroom.
Lanier accused the producers of high-fructose corn syrup of falsely advertising their product to be just as healthful as sugar. Webb hit back, asserting that sugar-makers have long promulgated junk science and falsehoods.
The legal battle was sparked by an advertisement blitz on TV and print proclaiming that the corn sweetener is natural and no different from sugar. Among the phrases featured in the ads were “nutritionally the same as table sugar” and “your body can’t tell the difference.”
This prompted the Western Sugar Cooperative and other sugar processors to sue a group of corn refiners and farm belt giants in 2011. Among those sued are Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Cargill Inc. The lawsuit seeks $1.5 billion in damages.
The corn refiners responded with a lawsuit of their own, saying that the sugar industry was falsely depicting corn syrup as less healthful than sugar. This lawsuit seeks $530 million.
During the trial opener on Wednesday, the lawyers presented jurors with diverging narratives of the squabble.
Lanier cited a 2004 report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linking corn syrup to obesity. This severely damaged the syrup’s performance in the market, and to stop the decline, corn executives decided to sell their product as sugar, he said. This campaign crossed into outright lies, Lanier asserted.
But Webb told jurors that this “phony lawsuit” by the sugar industry was part of its longtime effort for a competitive advantage. He said that in the 1970s, when high-fructose corn syrup became available in stores, sugar began to steadily lose its hold on the market. The sugar industry, not wanting the competition, started to push unsubstantiated claims that corn syrup is “poison” and makes people “fat and stupid”, he said.
Webb added that both sugar and corn syrup are processed, and that the only difference between them is that corn sugar is made from corn.
Prior to their opening statements, both attorneys vetted and selected nine jurors who will decide the case.