Jurors Will Decide Whether Sugar or Corn Syrup Is Worse

The sugar industry is accusing high fructose corn syrup producers of falsely stating their product is as healthy as sugar. The corn syrup people are countersuing, saying that sugar has engaged in a long campaign of disparaging corn syrup.

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Nov 6 2015, 8:00pm

Photo via Flickr user Kurtis Garbutt

When times get tough, the embattled start fighting among themselves.

In a federal courtroom in Los Angeles this week, a trial began that pitted Big Sugar against Big Corn Syrup. The sugar industry is accusing high fructose corn syrup producers of falsely stating their product is as healthy as sugar. The corn syrup people are countersuing, saying that sugar has engaged in a long campaign of disparaging corn syrup.

You may be thinking, they're both lousy for you, aren't they? Haven't they each been tied to everything from obesity to tooth decay? But big bucks are at stake here. Sugar is saying it deserves $1.5 million in damages. Corn syrup says it should be rewarded $530 million.

Which is healthier? Sugar or corn syrup? The jurors will decide.

Photo via Flickr user Ana Ulin

Photo via Flickr user Ana Ulin

It all started with an ad campaign back in 2008 that was paid for by the corn syrup people. That campaign stated that corn syrup was basically the equivalent of sugar and that nutritionally "your body can't tell the difference." Ads appeared on television, in newspapers, and in magazines.

Sugar's lawyer, Mark Lanier, said, "That's just wrong. And the corn refiners know it."

Dan Webb, an attorney for corn syrup, told jurors the campaign was merely intended "to get the truth out there," according to the Los Angeles Times.

The corn-refiners countersued, saying that the sugar industry had long portrayed corn syrup as unhealthy, all in a desperate attempt to bolster sugar sales.

READ: This Is Why Sugar Is So Damn Addictive

During opening statements, the lawyers for sugar interests presented jurors with a drawing of a natural-looking burlap sack filled with glistening sugar, opposite an industrial-looking vat labeled "HFCS," for high fructose corn syrup. The sugar lawyers ridiculed the corn syrup people for trying to pass their wares off as something called "corn sugar."

In their opening statement, the corn syrup lawyers said that about 10 years ago, the sugar industry began perpetuating unsubstantiated claims about corn syrup, saying it was the "crack cocaine of all sweeteners."

In other words, things are getting nasty in the courtroom.

Perhaps ironically, the corn syrup argument goes something like this: we're as bad as you are. Webb, the corn syrup attorney, told jurors that both sugar and corn syrup are processed, despite what the sugar industry would like you to think. Webb then pointed out that the difference between the two products is simply that corn syrup is made from corn.

"Sugar is sugar. There is no difference," he said. "If you consume too much sugar, that's not good for you. If you consume too much corn sugar, that's not good for you."

Let the games begin. In the end, maybe the jury is being called upon not to say which is the healthier substance, but which—of two evils—is worse.

May the better sweetener win. In the meantime, we'll be trolling the last of the Halloween candy and preparing for the sweetener-onslaught that is known as Thanksgiving.