Big Corn and Big Sugar Face Off in Court

Big Corn and Big Sugar Face Off in Court

A multi-million dollar marketing battle brings Big Sugar and Big Corn back to federal court. The trial, which began last week, stems from the attempted rebranding of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as “corn sugar” by the Corn Refiners Association.

While Big Corn lost this battle in 2012 when the Food and Drug Administration ruled that a liquid could not be categorized as sugar, Big Sugar claims that the advertisements explaining the similarities between corn syrup and sugar were detrimental to sugar producers, and the Western Sugar Cooperative and other sugar processors are seeking as much as $2 billion in retribution for false advertising. Corn refiners are countersuing, charging the sugar industry with making misleading statements about the danger and addictiveness of corn syrup, seeking $530 million in retributions.

The ad campaign for corn as sugar includes several different commercials, all of which come to the same conclusion: sugar is sugar. This statement is backed by certain scientists, including Roger A. Clemens, a University of Southern California research professor, who pointed out that the structures of sugar and HFCS are nearly the same: sugar is half fructose, half glucose, while HFCS is 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose. Other scientists claim that HFCS is indeed worse for you; studies performed on rats found that HFCS, calorie for calorie, was more closely linked with obesity than sugar, and more recent studies have shown that HFCS contains several harmful chemicals.

The rebranding of HFCS stems from a desire to distance the product from damaging publicity, including but not limited to links with diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay—links that Big Corn says Big Sugar is partially responsible for. Part of the case against Big Sugar is founded in attacks on HFCS as early as the 1970s, when the cheaper product began replacing sugar in many food products in the U.S., and Big Sugar began to fight back to regain its former customers.

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Corn image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco