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Sugar, corn industries settle sweetener spat

Published:Friday | November 20, 2015 | 5:41 PM

The sugar and corn industries in Los Angeles ended their bitter billion-dollar dispute over sweeteners on Friday in a secret out-of-court settlement.

The deal, midway through a trial in Los Angeles federal court, put an end to duelling lawsuits that pitted sugar processors against the makers of high fructose corn syrup over losses each side blamed on efforts by their rival to win over consumers.

Sugar processors were seeking US$1.5 billion in a false-advertising claim against corn refiners and agribusinesses giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill and other companies after they tried to rebrand their publicity-plagued product as "corn sugar".

Western Sugar Cooperative and other sugar processors said 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.

The archrivals sugar-coated their rancour 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."

Attorneys on both sides refused to discuss the terms of the settlement or whether any money would be exchanged.

Eric Rose, a spokesman for the sugar processors, said they "achieved a satisfactory settlement of the disputes in the lawsuit".

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 from 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 crystallised food, not syrup.

Although some consumers passionately favour one product over the other, science has determined they are nearly identical and are metabolised 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 per cent fructose and 45 per cent glucose.

- AP