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Sugar Vs. Corn Syrup: A Bittersweet Legal Battle05:30

The nutrition label on a can of soda with the ingredient high fructose corn syrup is pictured on Sept. 15, 2011, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
The nutrition label on a can of soda with the ingredient high fructose corn syrup is pictured on Sept. 15, 2011, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

In a Los Angeles courtroom, sugar producers are suing members of the high fructose corn syrup industry for what they see as lying to the public. In the past, corn syrup has produced ads saying that the two sweeteners were equal in nutritional value. Sugar says that's not true.

On the other side of the argument, corn producers say that sugar has made slanderous statements about their product that damaged their reputation and caused sales to plummet.

Scientists are being called before the court to put an end to the battle once and for all. Both sides agree that their products should be eaten in moderation.

Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson discusses the case with Mark Lanier, the lawyer representing the sugar producers, followed by John Bode, president and CEO of Corn Refiners Association.

Interview Highlights

On scientists saying sugar and high fructose corn syrup are essentially the same

Lanier (sugar): “The scientists that say there is not much difference are all generally funded either by the high fructose corn syrup refiners, or by some company association affiliated with those refiners. I’m talking about the independent researchers - Princeton's Medical School that did their study - these studies that show increases in triglycerides in blood levels, that show increase in fatty liver, these are the studies that lie at the root of the case.”

Bode (corn): “[The sugar producers] certainly are suing us but we have never said anything that disparages sugar, what we’ve said is that high fructose corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to sugar. And that is what all the leading scientific authorities say.”

On the history of the food fight

Lanier: “Corn refiners’ problems started in 2004 when doctors Bray and Popkin published an article that linked high fructose corn syrup to obesity. At that time, the demand for high fructose corn syrup started plummeting. The documents we put forward in court, they were confidential until now, but they show there was this big deliberative debate among the corn refiners. They said, do we really want to ‘pick a food fight’ with sugar, and the decision was made, ‘yes let’s do it’. The fight waged for four years until sugar brought the suit, and then high fructose corn syrup stopped running the ads once we brought the lawsuit.”

Bode: “There’s very poor relations between the two industries. It started in 2003 when the Sugar Association hired a new CEO who made his number one management objective replacement of high fructose corn syrup with sugar, which is just fine, that’s the way the market works and industries compete. But they set out to make false statements and disparage high fructose corn syrup. And finally in 2008 the corn refining industry started fighting back, not by disparaging sugar, but by pointing out the scientific supported facts about high fructose corn syrup.”

Is there an end to the feud?

Lanier: “It’s a real pity that the parties can’t get together and just agree upon some fair terms for advertising. Nobody should be lied to about what’s in a product, nobody should be lied to about what the product is. If we can come to an agreement upon some terms like that, we can get on living and everybody can choose to eat whatever they want.”

Bode: “That’s very difficult to get past – the facts are one thing, people will understand facts – but if they have concern about a product, to get those concerns allayed is very difficult. All we can do is tell the truth and hope that in time all of that works through into the public consciousness.”


This segment aired on November 19, 2015.

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