The Irony of Better Living Through Chemistry

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Equal and Splenda Throw Blows Over Advertising Claims- May The Best Chemist Win

Last week Merisant, the US maker of chemically based artificial sweetener Equal and NutraSweet, took the marketer of sugar substitute Splenda McNeil Nutritionals to court, alleging advertising for the product is misleading. Equal filed a false advertising lawsuit claiming its hot-selling competitor, Splenda, isn't really made from sugar at all, as its packaging claims.

In a complaint filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, Merisant Co. said Splenda's marketing slogan, "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," should probably read something like, "made from dextrose, maltodextrin and 4-chloro-4-deoxy-alpha, D-Galactopyranosyl-1, 6-dichloro-1, 6-dideoxy-beta, D-fructofuranoside."

According to McNeil Nutritionals, sucralose the alleged sugar derivative starts off as pure cane sugar, and is then chemically altered in the manufacturing process to create a new compound with zero calories and 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Merisant said McNeil Nutritionals, the unit of Johnson & Johnson that markets Splenda, had misled consumers into thinking the artificial sweetener was "natural," or made with raw sugar, when it is actually a synthesized and chlorinated chemical.

"In reality ... there is no sugar in Splenda and Splenda's sweet taste does not come from sugar," the lawsuit said, "Splenda is not natural in any sense of the word. Instead, the truth about Splenda is that it is sweetened with a synthetic compound that is the result of a complex chemical process."

McNeil Nutritionals spokeswoman Monica Neufang said the lawsuit has no merit.

"Splenda, “she insisted,” is not made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar but, we have never claimed that it is natural, nor would we. It is a sugar substitute," Neufang said. "Consumers are not misled."

Thom King, president of Steviva Brands, Inc., a producer and distributor of the natural sugar alternative Stevia, said “It is about time that Splenda be exposed for what it really is… better living through chemistry” King added, “The large pharmaceutical companies have been marketing chemically produced sweeteners to consumers for years". King expressed relief that it's the behemoth chemical companies that are going after each other rather than targeting small all natural companies like Steviva Brands, Inc. King, who's company has been producing and distributing Steviva brand Stevia for over 8 years went on to state "The real irony is that Splenda targets low carb dieters, diabetics and persons sensitive to sugar when the main ingredient maltodextrin is not low carb or recommended by any of the very popular low carb diets and can spike insulin levels".

More often than not disputes like the one between Equal and Splenda are often settled by the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau. Merisant sought to have them intervene, but McNeil beat them to the punch and filed a lawsuit in a court in Puerto Rico last month, with the intention to have its advertising claims declared valid.

It is not clear yet whether the court in Puerto Rico or the court in Philadelphia will get final jurisdiction over the dispute.

Mean while Chicago-based Merisant asked the Philadelphia court to prohibit McNeil Nutritionals from making any further claims associating Splenda with sugar. It also asked a judge to order McNeil to pay unspecified cash damages, and to initiate a corrective advertising campaign clarifying that Splenda is a synthetic chemical.

Since its introduction in the United States in 2000, Splenda sales have soared. It has since passed Equal in the U.S. retail market for chemically based sugar substitutes.


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Stephanie Rosen