Cargill defends natural claim for erythritol in court case

by Jeff Gelski
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MINNEAPOLIS — Cargill argued that erythritol, a bulk sweetener, is natural and not produced from bioengineered corn while agreeing to a settlement in a court case involving natural claims for Cargill’s Truvia sweeteners.

Truvia contains erythritol, stevia leaf extracts and natural flavors. Erythritol has become a common complementary sweetener to stevia plant extracts, which are high-intensity sweeteners. Food and beverage companies may believe the combination of erythritol and stevia allows their finished products to retain all-natural status.

In the Sept. 19 filing in the U.S. District court for the district of Minnesota, Cargill agreed to pay a total of $5.3 million although the Wayzata, Minn.-based company denied that its marketing, advertising and/or labeling of Truvia consumer products is false, deceptive or misleading to consumers or violates any legal requirement. Cargill said it wanted to avoid the time and expenses associated with further litigation.

Erythritol is the largest ingredient by weight in Truvia natural sweeteners. It provides bulk and sugar-like crystalline appearance. Erythritol is produced through a natural fermentation process, Cargill said.

“The erythritol used in in Truvia natural sweetener is produced by a yeast organism that is found in nature,” Cargill said. “The yeast ferments or digests dextrose and other nutrients. In other words, dextrose is the food for the yeast, much like corn may be food for a cow that produces meat or milk. The dextrose used as the feedstock for the yeast is a simple sugar that is derived from the starch component of U.S.-grown corn.

“Although genetically enhanced corn and non-transgenic corn are grown in the U.S. today, erythritol is not derived from corn or dextrose feedstock (just as milk is not derived from cattle feed). It is derived from the yeast organism. Erythritol is not genetically modified and does not contain any genetically modified proteins.”

Cargill did agree to modify the description of erythritol on all Truvia consumer product packaging to the following phrase or similar phrase: “Erythritol is a natural sweetener, produced by a fermentation process. Erythritol is also found in fruits like grapes and pears.” The current phrase, which will be replaced, is, “Erythritol is a natural sweetener, produced by a natural process, and is also found in fruits like grapes and pears.”

The lawsuit’s origin dates to Feb. 12 when plaintiff Molly Martin alleged in the Hennepin county, Minnesota state district court that she bought Truvia products and was deceived by label statements claiming the products were natural. She alleged the products were not natural because they contained ingredients that were “highly processed” and/or derived from bioengineered ingredients. Lauren Barry made a similar allegation against the products in California.

On Sept. 18 Ms. Martin and Ms. Barry filed the action Martin, et al. v. Cargill, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota on a proposed nationwide class. The Sept. 19 filing involves an agreement that would encompass any related actions. Related actions would include, but not be limited to, a lawsuit filed July 8 in Hawaii with Denise Howerton as the plaintiff and Cargill as the defendant.

Under the agreement reached in the Sept. 19 filing, Cargill has agreed to establish an administrative fund of $300,000 and a settlement fund of $5 million. The settlement fund would include voucher redemptions for 40-count and 80-count packages of Truvia natural sweetener packets and any sizes of the Truvia natural sweetener spoonable jars and baking blends.

Cargill also would modify Truvia consumer products labels and the Truvia consumer products web site.

Cargill would modify the tag line “Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener” on certain areas of its packet boxes and spoonable jar labels in one of two ways, in combination or alone, at Cargill’s discretion.

One option involves adding an asterisk after the tag line. The asterisk will reference “*For more information about our ingredients go to Truvia.com/FAQ.”

Another option involves changing “Nature’s Calorie Free Sweetener” on all Truvia natural sweetener packaging to a similar phrase such as “Calorie-Free Sweetener From the Stevia Leaf” or “Calorie-Free Sweetener from Stevia” or “Calorie-Free Sweetness from the Stevia Leaf” or “Calorie-Free Sweetness from Stevia.”
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