When it comes to money-fueled influence peddling, few special interest groups rival the sugar industry, which according to the Heritage Foundation has spent some $50 million over the last five years to preserve its near-monopolistic stranglehold on the U.S. market. A pretty sweet deal, eh? In a time when the president decries money in politics and “greed,” it’s the kind of investment that would make Gordon Gekko blush.
Sugar money pours into campaigns and PACs, and hundreds of millions pour back in direct “expenditures” to these very same companies, while consumers get shafted with sugar prices that are double what they would be in a more competitive market.
But wait — this apparently isn’t enough for the sugar barons.
Documents released just days ago in U.S. federal court — part of a lawsuit in which the sugar industry accuses high fructose corn syrup companies of running a misleading advertising campaign — reveal a multi-year effort by The Sugar Association to drive food and beverage companies away from its arch-rival, high fructose corn syrup, and back to beet and cane sugar.
In other words, when policy makers and the American public correctly became concerned in recent years about the role of excessive sugar consumption and the rise in obesity and diabetes, the sugar industry had a ready response: point the finger at high fructose corn syrup.
All’s fair in love and war, you say? True enough — one huge industry attacking another isn’t something to get teary-eyed about. But even by hardball-standards, the sugar industry takes the cake. The documents show that as far back as 2003, The Sugar Association hatched a secretive, sophisticated campaign to fund phony consumer groups, generate consumer alarm, and promote flawed science critical of HFCS that their own scientists believed was bogus.
For example, in an email to Sugar Association president Andy Briscoe, the association’s chief science officer advises, “The data in the HFCS study are so illogical and incoherent it’s recommended that we neither cite nor issue any public comment … No more time will be spent on this politically motivated propaganda as we have more important issues to address.” Yet, apparently Briscoe and his association rejected that advice and promoted the study, anyway.
It gets worse.
Previously released documents show that The Sugar Association gave the sketchy consumer group, Citizens for Health, more than $300,000 to attack HFCS. It turns out that CFH is actually run out of the DC-law firm Swankin & Turner, which houses several purported “consumer groups.” Currently, CFH is flogging a petition into FDA urging the agency to crack down on HFCS. One can only imagine how many of the people who signed the petition realized it is all a put-up job by the sugar industry.
From there, The Sugar Industry went on to sue the HFCS industry, which a federal judge in California has already declared a SLAPP suit, essentially meaning its primary purpose is to silence and harass the other side. It gets uglier and uglier, but you get the picture.