The parent of a 14-year-old with type 2 diabetes has sued several companies that make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), alleging that the substance is “toxic” and its consumption caused the teen’s disease. S.F. v. Archer-Daniels- Midland Co., No. 13-634 (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D.N.Y., filed June 17, 2013).

The complaint details the purported effects of HFCS on the human body, asserting that it is associated with metabolic disease, liver inflammation and insulin resistance, chronic hyperinsulinemia, and type 2 diabetes. It also alleges that the fructose in HFCS “‘tricks’ the brain into wanting more food and stimulates excessive and continued consumption” and that it “bypasses the insulin-driven satiety system, suppressing ‘the degree of satiety’ that would normally result from a meal of glucose or sucrose, thereby causing and contributing to over consumption on a chronic basis with the adverse effects therefrom including the development of type 2 diabetes.”

Alleging that HFCS use and consumption have “become nearly omni present in American foods and beverages,” increasing by more than 1,000 percent between 1970 and 1990, the complaint also contends that the defendants “in conjunction with the Corn Refiners Association” embarked on a publicity campaign “that attempts to recast HFCS as a natural product that is ‘natural, nutritionally the same as table sugar and has the same number of calories.’” Seeking a damages award for “loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, emotional distress, . . . future lifelong and permanent medical complications including the probability of surgery and shortened life expectancy,” as well as compliance “with rigorous dietary and pharmaceutical restrictions her entire life,” the plaintiff alleges strict liability; failure to warn; negligence; gross negligence; and willful, wanton and reckless conduct. In addition to $5 million, the plaintiff seeks exemplary and punitive damages, costs and disbursements.

Attorney J. Michael Hayes, who is representing the plaintiff, reportedly said he believed this was the first consumer product liability case to be filed against HFCS manufacturers. A Corn Refiners Association spokesperson apparently said that HFCS is safe and natural and that the allegations are false and unsubstantiated. Association President and CEO John Bode said, “The plaintiff is seeking to profit by making claims that are contradicted by solid, credible research, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the American Medical Association. This lawsuit will confuse consumers and mislead them about how to make the right choices for a healthy diet.” See Law360, June 20, 2013.