updated 11/2/2006 7:33:52 PM ET 2006-11-03T00:33:52

U.S. sugar farmers and processors Thursday accused the seller of Splenda artificial sweetener of false advertising and asked regulators to investigate.

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A trade group representing the sugar industry sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission saying McNeil Nutritionals, a unit of Johnson & Johnson , was misleading consumers by claiming its product is “made from sugar so it tastes like sugar.”

“The evidence strongly suggests that McNeil’s Splenda advertising campaign is designed to confuse consumers,” the Sugar Association said in its complaint to the FTC.

The complaint filed with the FTC is the latest move in a long-running battle between the two sides that is still pending in federal court. McNeil has accused the association of trying to boost sugar sales by spreading false and misleading information about the safety and taste of Splenda.

“Splenda is not a natural product. It is not cultivated or grown and it does not occur in nature,” the Sugar Association said in its complaint to the agency.

An FTC spokesman confirmed that the agency had received the letter but declined further comment. Under U.S. law, the agency can sue to ban advertising it deems false or deceptive.

Tate & Lyle Plc  makes Splenda’s key ingredient, sucralose, a chemically altered version of sugar that replaces naturally found hydrogen and oxygen with chlorine.

Splenda has been sold in the United States since 1998.

McNeil issued a statement Thursday saying the industry’s claims were a “baseless” attack designed to hurt Splenda’s reputation.

“The company will continue to ensure its advertising represents the products in an accurate and informative manner and complies with applicable advertising rules in the countries where Splenda brand products are marketed,” McNeil said.

Earlier this year a consumer advocacy group filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking that agency to withdraw its approval of Splenda pending further investigation of possible side effects that Citizens for Health described as stomach pains and other digestion problems.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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