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Will There be Corn Syrup in Your Stocking on Christmas Morning?

With Christmas just around the corner, visions of sugar plums and other sweet treats are dancing in consumers' heads as they plan for the big event. Candy and the sugar used to make it are very big business in the United States and account for annual sales in the billions of dollars. Worldwide sales are even more staggering in their magnitude. So, it should come as no surprise that other sweetener manufacturers, envious of the stranglehold sugar has had as the sweetener of choice, have tried to make inroads against sugar's market share in recent years. Not least amongst these competitors has been the corn industry.

Sweeteners have long been big business. They show up in so many consumer products, ranging from soda pop to cookies to candy that it might be virtually impossible to catalog them all. But, in recent years, consumers have been admonished to watch their waist lines and to avoid all things unnatural, especially when those things may be contributing to America's obesity problem. Sugar producers saw an advantage to this marketing and were quick to market cane sugar as "organic" and "natural."

Borrowing from the sugar industry and hoping to entice consumers to their products, corn refiners like Archer Daniels Midland Co. began using similar claims for corn syrup several years ago. After all, what's more "natural" than corn?

Not surprisingly, the sugar industry found nothing natural about corn syrup. In 2011, several sugar refiners, including global leader ASR Group, filed a lawsuit alleging that a Corn Refiners Association advertising campaign describing high fructose corn syrup both as "corn sugar" and as "natural" was false. The sugar growers sought $1.1 billion in compensatory damages over the campaign. But, the corn refiners countersued, saying the Sugar Association falsely claimed in its newsletter that corn syrup caused obesity and cancer. The corn refiners asked for about $530 million in their countersuit.

The competing cases involved voluminous scientific evidence and heated hyperbole from both sides about the relative merits of their respective products and the horrible things that result from consuming their competitors' products. Sugar and corn were so far apart that it seemed inevitable the case would go before a jury earlier this month with a verdict likely due before the holidays.

Then, suddenly, miraculously, and just in the nick of time, the two sides reached a settlement in late November. Now, all would be well in the world of sweeteners. The consuming public could gleefully fill up on candies and sodas and all other sorts of sweet treats without a worry over whether they were "natural" or not. They were sweet and that was all that mattered.

Why It Matters. When behemoths like the sugar industry and the corn syrup industry go to war with virtually unlimited litigation war chests, it is almost always because the issue in question involves substantial potential profits or, perhaps, the very existence of one party or the other. However, when the stakes are so high that the two sides recognize the potential for an outcome so disastrous that it might mean the end, the parties are usually able to come up with some sort of arrangement, even if last minute, that allows the issue to be resolved and both sides to carry on churning out profits. This may be even more likely when the overall market is shrinking and there is a scramble to preserve an industry as a whole.

It may be useful to know that overall American consumption of sweeteners is down significantly from 1999 to the present. Overall, the average American consumed 131.1 pounds of sweetener in 2014, down from 153.2 pounds in 1999. Keep that in mind when you pour out your stocking on Christmas morning and out tumbles a pile of sweet, sweet candy.

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