Press Clips: The Sugar v. Corn Refiners Showdown

Two heavyweights with Teflon gloves may at last reap what they’ve wrought.

On Tuesday, Eric Lipton of The New York Times summarized an extensive, recently-publicized lawsuit between beverage-sweetening rivals that outlines more than a decade of manipulation and wrangling. How have the corn refinery and sugar industries responded to waning sales and the jeremiads sprouting from each other, consumer advocate groups and politicians? Spend, spend, spend.

“It is a plague on both of their houses,” Marion Nestle, a New York University professor and nutrition expert used by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) as a defense of its products. “It is a disgusting performance neither should be proud of.”

The lawsuit illuminates a lengthy effort from both industries to covertly fund dueling non-profit groups in Washington D.C. The groups have aimed to recover declines in market share and influence public opinion against the rival sweetener.

Most expensive is the public relations campaign by the CRA, which has rung up more than $30 million since 2008, according to the article.

The article also mentions the spending of about $10 million over a four-year period to help fund a series of studies conducted by Dr. James M. Rippe, a cardiologist and health expert based in Massachusetts. Rippe, who was paid a per-month retainer of $41,000 by the CRA to serve as an outside expert who submits commentary to local newspapers, said that the probe is an example of seeking evil where there is none.

“We presented academic research based on the highest gold standard,” Rippe said in the article.

While the CRA may be the bigger spender of the two, the article states that The Sugar Association gave the first shove in 2003, when it began a covert marketing plan titled “food and beverage industry replacement of H.F.C.S. with sucrose.” In 2004, the association sent a “highly confidential” letter to its members that noted how it “fed the media with the science to fuel the public concern and debate on H.F.C.S.”

The group has also supported Citizens for Health, self-proclaimed as “The Consumer Voice of the Natural Health Community.” The article states that in 2011, federal tax returns show that the group received from the sugar industry more than $200,000 — more than half its annual budget.

Naturally, these aren’t the only two beverage-related think tanks willing to spend a buck. According to Carey Gillam of Reuters, a group of biotech companies have increasing advertising efforts to drive traffic to The site aims to challenge the widespread call for GMO labeling and tighter regulation of the biotech seed industry, according to the article.

The site was launched in July by a trio of global, agricultural businesses: Monsanto, DuPont and Dow AgroSciences, a unit of Dow Chemical.

“The group is also adding to its roster of ‘experts,’ which now is largely made up of GMO-friendly academics and executives who work for the biotech seed companies,” Gillam writes. “The experts answer questions posted on the website. Commentators with opposing views can weigh in and debate the issue.”

Last week, Reed’s announced that its Virgil’s sodas, Ginger Brew and Culture Club Kombucha will soon be available in six major North American airports. The momentum via air travel continues, as Jonathan Shieber of TechCrunch reported Wednesday that crowdfunding service CircleUp has partnered with Virgin America “as a way to identify new snacks and drinks that could be served on its flights.”

CircleUp, an online crowdfunding platform, connects small, high-growth consumer brands with value-added investors. Shieber adds that the partnership with Virgin America serves as just the latest example of corporations embracing the idea of crowdfunding.