Tate & Lyle's sucralose-based sweetener Splenda, which is created by combining a sugar molecule with chlorine atoms, is marketed under the slogan "Tastes like sugar, because it's made from sugar," and the U.S. Sugar Association says that this claim is misleading. In a letter to the FTC, the association has demanded that the marketing of U.S. Splenda distributor McNeil Nutritionals be investigated, adding that the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary was attempting to create the perception that Splenda is natural.
"Advertisers must have a reasonable basis for their claims," the letter said. "Consumers who choose to purchase Splenda products or food products containing Splenda are likely doing so based on the mistaken belief that Splenda is natural and, therefore, necessarily wholesome and safe. To the contrary, Splenda is an artificial product that contains chlorine, which is a reality lost by consumers who trust Johnson & Johnson/McNeil's advertising."
The complaint also notes that Splenda is actually manufactured through a patented process that creates sucralose from raffinose -- a starch derived from beets -- making the sugar link claimed by the slogan all the more false. Additionally, more than 98 percent of Splenda is made up of diluting agents such as maltodextrin and dextrose, the complaint claims, because the product is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Finally, the letter condemns the four-calorie product's claims of containing "no calories" through a federal labeling law that allows such a claim from products with less than five calories per serving.
"The literal falsity of McNeil's advertising claims notwithstanding, what is most troubling about this advertising is that it misleads consumers to perceive Splenda as a natural product ... which alleviates health and safety concerns that consumers might otherwise have," said the letter.
McNeil released a statement last week that described the claims as the "latest tactic by the Sugar Association designed to injure the reputation and goodwill" of Splenda, adding the accusations were "baseless and a great disservice to the millions of consumers who safely use" the product. McNeil has filed a lawsuit to stop the Sugar Association from making its accusations.
However, McNeil has more than just the sugar industry to worry about. In November of last year, competitive sweetener manufacturer and Equal and NutraSweet maker Merisant also alleged that McNeil had mislead consumers into thinking Splenda was natural, and sugar industry bodies in Australia and New Zealand both petitioned against the advertising. Local advertising boards in the countries upheld the petitions. In addition, the consumer advocacy group Citizens for Health filed a petition with the FDA this year to withdraw its approval of Splenda until its safety can be confirmed by further investigation.
"It's hilarious," said Mike Adams, author of "How to Halt Diabetes in 25 Days." "The sugar industry, which insists that sugar doesn't cause diabetes, or weight gain, or behavioral disorders, is calling the Splenda promoters liars. This is an industry that has deceived American consumers for decades while accepting enormous taxpayer subsidies to produce a substance that actually harms the public."