In September, a collective of cane sugar producers and trade associations took the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) to court over its $50 million “Sweet Surprise” media campaign, on the grounds that the campaign’s claims (I.E. that high fructose corn syrup is chemically identical to other forms of sugar) constitute false advertising. On Friday, a federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs’ case has merit and is deserving of a full trial.
"Plaintiffs have met their burden in showing a reasonable probability of success on their argument that the statements are false,” said U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall, who presided over the indictment. Judge Marshall made her ruling based on testimonies from both sides of the trial as well as documents relevant to the case – a key piece of evidence involves documents that the CRA had previously submitted to the Mexican government in response to a regulatory issue, in which they acknowledge the difference between HFCS and other forms of sugar.
"There is evidence in the record indicating that Defendants have themselves made statements about the different chemical make-up between table sugar and HFCS," Marshall wrote in her ruling. "Plaintiffs have also submitted studies and papers that support its allegation that CRA's claim that HFCS is sugar and/or natural is false and/or misleading."
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With this ruling, the case against the Corn Refiners Association will be brought to a full trial. If they are defeated on that stage, they will be forced to pull their advertising – which could have a major adverse effect on their efforts to have the FDA allow them to rebrand HFCS as “corn sugar” (a battle that is already on shaky ground).
Lawyers working on behalf of cane sugar associations released a statement saying: “We are gratified by Judge Marshall's ruling and we look forward to a final resolution of our case so that the Corn Refiners Association is forced to end its deceptive campaign aimed at misleading American consumers.” On the other hand, representatives for the Corn Refiners Association took the ruling as evidence of sugar producers attempting to stamp out free speech, and suggested that sugar producers of all types settle their differences “in the marketplace” rather than in the courtroom.
As for us, we look forward to watching what happens next: no matter what the outcome is, it will be history in the making.