Last year at this time the news wires were abuzz with the FDA’s decision denying the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) petition to rename high fructose corn syrup “corn sugar.” This June, however, the Associated Press, daily papers and law journals are reporting another story regarding HFCS, one perhaps just as disconcerting to the CRA – that the manufacturers of this test-tube sweetener are being taken to court.
Buffalo attorney J. Michael Hayes filed last week what is likely a first-of-its-kind civil action against six manufacturers of HFCS, including giants Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, for products liability, failure to warn, gross negligence, reckless conduct and injuries.
Hayes’s plaintiff in the case is a Buffalo-area woman and her 14-year-old daughter who has type-2 diabetes, a condition, Hayes says, to which there is a “direct, causal connection” with the consumption of HFCS.
“My view,” Hayes told Food Identity Theft in a phone interview last week, “and my experts’ view is essentially the government is too corrupt to do anything on this…so you’re not going to get the politicians to do it, you’re certainly not going to get industry to do it, because they’re making too much money. So the only choice is litigation.”
“I’ve got a nationally renowned expert who is solid that HFCS is a cause of type-2 diabetes, which is what we have to prove in the law,” Hayes said. “It doesn’t have to be the sole cause,” he added, but “it has to be a substantial factor.”
Hayes said his interest in pursuing a case against HFCS grew out of what he “filtered” from a health and nutrition conference he and his wife, a nurse and nutrition counselor, attended last year. “I spent three days absorbing that, and I came out of it saying HFCS is an artificial product that is causing a harm, and it’s not warned against.” So “it very well may be that there is something here.”
“Industry argues (HFCS) is the same as sugar, which is not true as we know. It has a different metabolic effect,” he maintained. It is also his belief that “if you make HFCS and you know it’s going to be consumed and you know it has the potential to cause illness and disease, then you have to place a warning on (products containing) it.”
An ‘evolving’ legal challenge
Galvanized by what he had learned at the conference, Hayes advertised in a local paper seeking clients for his HFCS case, and was called by the mom (both mother and daughter are being kept anonymous in the complaint), whom Hayes describes as being a “very conscientious” parent.
The attorney’s 17-page complaint, which calls HFCS “a toxin,” also states that HFCS is “totally man-made,” “not natural” and “cannot simply be extracted from an ear of corn.” It also notes that “(s)ince 1970, coinciding with the advent and increasing and pervasive commercial use of HFCS, type-2 diabetes rates in the United States have skyrocketed.
“I know they (the defendants) are going to fight like crazy for the first three or four years…and because these are individual cases and not a class action I could have another dozen (plaintiffs) coming in.”
Hayes says he will not be discouraged by losing one of these cases, as “we can try another and another one,” nor does he think that he is the only litigator who will be pursuing such claims.
“It’s fascinating and it’s evolving,” he said. “These cases are going to pop up all over the nation, and this is going to take HFCS off the shelves.”
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