The un-natural truth about Splenda®

By: Buck Leonards

I’m a firm believer that “advertising pays,” but the old slogan may take on a new twist in this case of alleged false advertising.

I received a press release from Washington, D.C., dated November 17, 2008, declaring that the Sugar Association and McNeil Nutritionals (a division of Johnson & Johnson) jointly declared they have reached a settlement of a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The details of the settlement agreement are confidential and the parties have agreed to make no additional comments on the terms of the settlement of this case, scheduled to go trial on January 6, 2009, in Los Angeles, Calif., as a potential landmark civil suit against Johnson & Johnson over its alleged false advertising of the artificial sweetener Splenda.

I’ve seen their advertisements and I remember thinking, “This is good, it’s not artificial if it comes from sugar.” I bought into their advertising whole heartedly and started using Splenda® thinking it was the more nutritious choice. Nowadays, anything seems possible. I figured they somehow just took the calories out of sugar so, I traded all my little blue packs for little yellow packs. Just in case the future holds a class action law suit, let me say I’m feeling just a little violated (and stupid) right now.

I always want my readers to be well informed, so in the following paragraphs I’ll share with you some information I learned from The Sugar Association press releases and the website www.truthaboutsplenda.com.

The central issue before the court was whether the advertising of Splenda® - a man-made chemical sweetener containing chlorine - makes consumers believe it is a natural product, by using taglines like “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar” and similar advertising. Internal documents alleged Johnson & Johnson knew its Splenda advertising was causing consumers to believe Splenda® is natural, even though it is not. Although rulings in France, Australia and New Zealand have found Johnson & Johnson’s advertising of Splenda® to be deceptive, the company continued advertising in the United States that remains the subject of legal scrutiny and public criticism.

According to Washington-based Sugar Association attorney, Mark Lanier, “Document after document from Johnson & Johnson’s own files show they knew all along their advertising was false and it was misleading consumers into believing Splenda® is natural, safe and healthy.” Although Johnson & Johnson has spent hundreds of millions on misleading advertising to intentionally fool consumers, Splenda® is not “natural.” In 2004, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) conducted a survey in which over 46 percent of respondents believed Splenda® to be a “natural product.” CSPI has stated in court filings “that it is in the public’s interest to stop fraudulent and misleading marketing at any point.”

In December 2004, The Sugar Association brought an action in United States District Court, Central District of California alleging Johnson & Johnson uses false, deceptive and misleading marketing to induce customers to purchase Splenda®. In its complaint, The Sugar Association claims Johnson & Johnson has chosen to compete not only in the artificial sweetener market against products like Sweet’N Low® and Equal®, but also in the natural sweetener market against sugar. Johnson & Johnson intentionally changed its advertising so consumers no longer view Splenda as a mere “packet” sweetener, but instead perceive it as a “pantry staple food,” in part by introducing a Splenda®-branded product it claimed “offers a true sugar baking replacement.”

Splenda® is marketed as healthy and safe for children and adults but there have been no long-term human tests to support this claim. In fact, the website www.truthaboutsplenda.com has received numerous consumer e-mail complaints associating Splenda® with a host of problems, including severe gastrointestinal side effects. If you Google “Splenda®”, you can find several other websites highlighting concerns.

There’s a lot of information out there and we obviously can’t always count on others to tell us the truth, so sometimes we have to find out for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but nothing can get me going more than feeling like I’ve been scammed.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year. This year again, I will be cutting calories as one of my New Year’s resolutions, but you can bet I will be sweetening my coffee, tea and hot chocolate with Louisiana grown, natural, healthy, SUGAR.

Buck Leonards is publisher/editor of Louisiana Farm and Ranch Magazine.

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