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Four-Year Court Battle Pitting Sugar Against Corn Syrup Ends in Secret Agreement

Ten days into the sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) jury trial, it’s over. All the parties — and there were many in Western Sugar Cooperative, et al. v. Archer Daniels-Midland Company — agreed to end it and pick up their own costs and attorneys’ fees. They also agreed to keep details of the settlement secret.

coffeesugar-406The case, which was filed on April 22, 2011, was settled Nov. 20, 2015, after the sugar side accused the high fructose corn syrup side of a range of objectionable behavior, including “a strong temporal relationship to the growth in American obesity.”

In its complaint four years ago, the sugar side stated that “consumers increasingly seek to avoid food and drink containing HFCS given the emerging science linking to possible nutritional and health problems, including obesity but also extending to a wide range of metabolic conditions.”

But after the parties agreed to drop the lawsuit, the NPD Group Dieting Monitor reported that the number-one item consumers are trying to watch out for is sugar in all its forms. In fact, NPG stated that, for the first time, more consumers are trying to exclude sugar than fats.

When the dispute began, sugar was concerned about having its good will co-opted by the term “corn sugar,” the name the HFCS side wanted to use, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) denied that request in 2012. Sugar also objected to corn using the term “natural” to describe its product. That 2011 complaint also claimed that there are “clear molecular differences between HFCS and sugar and clear differences in how the human body processes them.”

Sugar also hated the corn syrup side’s “sugar is sugar” and “your body can’t tell the difference” campaigns. Sugar also charged HFCS with causing obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Millions were spent even before the court action began four years ago, with the sugar side finally filing false advertisement claims under the Lanham Act. But now it’s all gone away, leaving consumers pretty much in the dark.

The agreement to end the dispute required 20 major sugar businesses and corn refiners to sign off on terms that have been kept from the public, and it ended a jury trial expected to last into December.

Dollar amounts involved in the lawsuit and countersuit were floated, with sugar growers wanting $1.1 billion from corn refiners in compensatory damages and corn refiners wanting about $530 million from the sugar producers.

As for whether sugar or HFCS is healthier, the joint statement on the settlement was neutral about that. Each side simply pledged to encourage the “safe and healthful use of their products … .”

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