Sugar Farmers Ask Federal Court to Reject Attempt to Silence Public Debate About HFCS

Published online: Oct 31, 2012
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The Sugar Association, which represents the nation's sugar cane and sugar beet farmers, has asked a federal court to dismiss a claim to stifle freedom of speechadvanced by several conglomerates that manufacture the sweetener high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Attorneys for the nonprofit trade group, who filed their motion in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles yesterday, said the corn processors' claim represents part of a "campaign to silence all negative commentary about HFCS from the public debate." The makers of HFCS who brought the claim on September 7 are Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM), Cargill, Ingredion, and Tate & Lyle Ingredient Americas.

The filed motion to dismiss is available at http://media.globenewswire.com/cache/17373/file/16418.pdf

The 25-page motion contrasts The Sugar Association's own speech-largely editorial statements and news releases posted on the organization's website-with the "lavish advertising campaign" funded by the corn processors and at the center of a lawsuit filed in April 2011, Western Sugar Cooperative v. Archer-Daniels-Midland, Co. That lawsuit was filed by a group of sugar farmers and other producers to stop a multimillion dollar marketing campaign by the corn processors.

The advertising originally challenged by sugar farmers was aimed at convincing the public that HFCS is "natural" despite the fact that it is produced with advanced technology that transforms corn starch at the molecular level; HFCS is really just a "corn sugar" even though the FDA has long reserved that term for an entirely different sweetener with no fructose in it; and that "your body can't tell the difference" between HFCS and sugar, although numerous scientists have published research supporting the opposite conclusion.

"The Sugar Association has been targeted by ADM, Cargill and the other corn processors for exercising a cherished right-free speech, which is at the core of the First Amendment," said co-lead attorney Adam Fox of the firm Squire Sanders. "As our motion notes, The Sugar Association did not commission any paid advertising. It hired no actors, directors or cameramen. It purchased no television commercials or spreads in newspapers or magazines. It made no presentations at trade shows, in webinars or in the boardrooms of any of its members' customers. It did not even write or call them."

Fox added, "It is outrageous that these companies are seeking to stifle a legitimate public discussion about HFCS, particularly because they previously said that stopping their own multimillion dollar commercial advertising would be a form of censorship. This is hypocrisy at its worst."

Federal Judge Consuelo Marshall, who is presiding over the lawsuit, previously ruled that the sugar farmers had presented evidence demonstrating "a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the (corn processors') statements are false." In July, the federal court also rejected an effort by the giant corn processors to have the case against them dismissed.

In May, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a petition by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA)-the trade association of ADM, Cargill, Ingredion and Tate & Lyle Ingredient Americas-to change the common or usual name for HFCS to "corn sugar." The FDA explained that "the use of the term 'sugar' to describe HFCS, a product that is a syrup, would not accurately identify or describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties." The FDA also stated that the name change could "pose a public health concern" to persons with fructose intolerance or malabsorption.