Splenda lawsuit hits all sour note with Popeye. The popular Carmel-based snack food maker is accusing Dunkin’ Brands Inc. of being deceptive to label its own low-calorie sweetener as Splenda. The complaint, filed in January by Popeye’s owner, George Farley, targets not just Popeye, but also other major snack and meal supplement manufacturers as well as the maker of Splenda itself. The lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California, says that the makers of both Splenda and its competitor, NutraSweet, have “misstated” their ingredients in an effort to sell more of their diet products. The complaint says the ingredients have “ripped” of any nutritional value.

Splenda Lawsuit

Farley’s attorney, Robert Gibbens, claims that the makers of both Splenda and NutraSweet knew long ago that their diet product was nothing more than a sugar substitute. “The ingredients were deliberately deceptive and void of nutritional value, so that neither the consumers nor the sellers could be any more certain that the items were part of a healthy diet,” he states in the complaint.

According to the complaint, both NutraSweet and its parent company, Unilever, “knowingly and willfully violated the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and other federal statutes.” The FDCPA, Gibbens adds, “prohibits the collection of advance fees for goods or services that are not as described.” He is asking for an undisclosed monetary award to compensate for his client’s pain and suffering.

If successful, the lawsuit will open up a new line of attack for food manufacturers against those who falsely advertise their products as low calorie, no fat, health supplement and even sweetener.

It’s a battle that’s already been pitting low calorie and sugar alternatives against artificial sweeteners and diet sodas. But the new lines of attack may open the industry to new lawsuits over products it doesn’t want to make. “The world of diet foods is expanding and changing rapidly, and so are the FTC’s rules and laws about what are and aren’t considered diet foods,” says Joseph Price, a vice president at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC.

“The industry is quickly adjusting to these changes, but if they don’t the industry will be left behind in its attempts to satisfy customers’ increasing demands for healthier foods with less fat, salt and sugar.”

The battle between sugar alternatives may be just getting started.

In November of 1993 the sweetener was added to the list of ingredients included in All Spice, a dietary supplement designed for diabetics. A month later, according to the Associated Press, the product was removed from stores. A month after that, it was added back. “The inclusion of aspartame in All Spice was a mistake, and we apologize for that mistake,” a spokesperson for the drug company told the media. “We have removed aspartame from our packages worldwide.”

Aspartame was removed from more than two dozen dietary supplements, but it didn’t end there.

A few months later, aspartame was added to again the popular diet and fitness book, Slim Fast. “The aspartame controversy has been rekindled by the recent suggestion in a wellness book that artificial sweeteners may be just as bad for you as sugar,” says Price.

“The twenty years since the aspartame case histories will determine how preservatives are handled in future products.” Aspartame wasn’t the only suspect in the aspartame lawsuit; a third artificial sweetener, saccharin, also became a target for plaintiffs’ attorneys.

The lawsuit against the makers of Splenda was eventually dismissed, but not before millions of Americans were put at risk of ingesting an unsafe artificial sweetener. For many, this was their first exposure to a toxic substance. “I feel like they just took away my freedom,” said a woman who suffered the lawsuit’s repercussions. “I’m not happy about how this whole aspartame thing has bothered me and my family, but at the same time, I don’t feel that anything can be done to undo the damage that has been done.”

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