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Splenda wages food fight against sugar industry

Ultrasound technician Pamela Toups is making sweet potato pie for her hospital's annual Valentine bakeoff, using her mother's recipe, but with a modern twist.

“I cook with Splenda because I like the way it responds to my food,” says Toups.

Splenda is an artificial sweetener, a growing choice of consumers and at the center of a legal food fight. It's sold two ways: by itself and as a baking blend of half-sugar and half-Splenda — that's what Toups used.

But it's Splenda's advertising campaign that has soured the Sugar Association.

“Splenda is the no-calorie sweetener made from sugar so it tastes like sugar,” claims one commercial.

The Sugar Association is suing Splenda's maker, McNeil Nutritionals, accusing it of false and misleading advertising that, it says, implies Splenda is a natural product. It concedes Splenda starts from sugar, but it says that the final product, called sucralose, is what gives Splenda its taste and is anything but natural.

“We think that the chemical process is such that there is nothing left of the essence of the sugar at the end of the process,” says Sugar Association attorney Jim Murphy.

Splenda's maker says its does not claim the sweetener is natural and has filed a countersuit, accusing the Sugar Association of a “false and malicious smear campaign” designed to frighten consumers about sucralose.

“Splenda has an unparalleled safety profile,” says Colin Watts, president of McNeil Nutritionals Worldwide. “It has been approved in every country that we’ve ever submitted it for approval.  It carries no safety or warning labels.”

What's at stake for both sides is what you choose in the supermarket.

The Sugar Association says Splenda has already claimed four percent of its sales and Splenda is trying to build on the 51 percent of the artificial sweetener market that it captured in just four years.

But Splenda is also being sued by two of its artificial sweetener competitors, which accuse Splenda of false and misleading advertising.

To Toups, the charges and countercharges don't matter. Its all about the taste.

“I think my pie is absolutely outstanding,” she boasts.

For her, the proof is in the pudding — or the pie.