(Adds quote from attorney for sugar companies)
By Dan Levine
Nov 20 Major sugar companies and corn refiners,
including Archer Daniels Midland Co, have settled high
stakes litigation that probed the health claims of each industry
amid falling demand for sweeteners.
Terms of the settlement, which was reached in the middle of
trial, were not disclosed in a joint statement on Friday.
"The parties had been trying to work on an agreement for a
month before trial, and these things take time," W. Mark Lanier,
an attorney for the sugar processors, told Reuters.
A representative for corn refiners declined to comment.
Several sugar refiners including global leader ASR Group
alleged in a 2011 lawsuit that a Corn Refiners Association
advertising campaign describing high fructose corn syrup as
"corn sugar" and "natural" was false. The corn refiners
countersued, saying the Sugar Association falsely said in its
newsletter that corn syrup caused obesity and cancer.
Trial began earlier this month, and had been expected to be
decided by jury in December. While the implications for the
companies are unclear, the settlement means consumers will not
receive an impartial verdict about which industry's health
claims are more accurate.
The case came amid an overall decline in sweetener demand,
particularly of corn syrup. The U.S. slowdown is due in part to
concerns about high rates of obesity and diabetes.
Corn refiners argued that sugar processors were not damaged
because they enjoyed record sales and profits during the ad
campaign. The sugar growers sought $1.1 billion in compensatory
damages over the campaign. The corn refiners asked for about
$530 million in their countersuit.
The case involved voluminous scientific evidence and heated
arguments from both sides, but a joint statement on Friday was
neutral about which product is healthier.
Both industries "continue their commitments to practices
that encourage safe and healthful use of their products,
including moderation in the consumption of table sugar, high
fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners," the parties said.
In 1999, the average American consumed 85.3 lb of corn
sweeteners per year, compared with 66.4 lb of sugar, according
to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. However, by 2014 corn
sweetener consumption had dropped to 60.7 lb, while sugar
consumption stood at 68.4 lb.
Overall, the average American consumed 131.1 lb of sweetener
in 2014, down from 153.2 lb in 1999.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2012 ruled that
corn syrup, used to sweeten foods including soda, could not be
(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Grant
McCool, Tom Brown and Marguerita Choy)