A coalition of US sugar processors and refiners have filed fresh legal action against member companies of the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) over "deceptive marketing" of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

United States Sugar Corp, Western Sugar Cooperative, Michigan Sugar Co, and seven other companies are suing US agribusiness giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, CRA announced yesterday (23 November). The amended complaint alleges that senior executives of the agribusiness conglomerates "organize[d] collectively in order to dominate and ... control" an ongoing marketing campaign to rename HFCS as "corn sugar".

The disagreement between the two industries dates back four years when the CRA re-branded HFSC as "corn sugar" and launched an advertising campaign. In September last year, the association petitioned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for an official name change.

However, in April, the sugar industry filed a lawsuit charging the corn refining companies with "false advertising". The FDA has asked the corn sugar marketers to refrain from using the term until it considers the request but their advertising campaign has continued.

The fresh legal action argues that the ad campaign claims HFCS is a "natural" product equivalent to real sugar from cane and beet plants. The sugar farmers however, believe the claims are untrue and are seeking a court order to halt the adverts and financial damages.

"This litigation is about false advertising funded by CRA's biggest members," said Adam Fox, attorney for sugar growers at law firm Squire Sanders. "Sugar cane and beet farmers want the defendants to stop their false and misleading statements that harm consumers, harm the makers of real sugar and harm any dialogue based on the truth. This lawsuit seeks to put an end to the intentional deception."

However, Audrae Erickson, president of the CRA, said the sugar industry was "attempting to use the courts to stifle free speech" but "lacks the facts to support its claims".

"We believe that the sugar industry's views are misleading American consumers," Erickson said. "The CRA will continue its work to educate consumers about high fructose corn syrup and will vigorously oppose the sugar industry's attempt to stifle public discussion of this important health issue."