Splenda Maker Falsely Touts Diabetes Benefits, Suit Says (subscription to Law360 required)
- As our readers may recall, a defamation lawsuit was filed on August 8, 2023 by TC Heartland LLC, the producer of a sucralose product sold as Splenda, against Dr. Susan Schiffman, the lead author of a May 29, 2023 scientific paper reporting potentially concerning toxicological and pharmacokinetic properties of sucralose-6-acetate (S6A), which the paper describes as an intermediate and impurity in the manufacture of sucralose. In addition to attacking the research paper itself, Heartland’s complaint alleges that Dr. Schiffman made demonstrably false toxicology claims to the press about Splenda (which the company says does not contain detectable levels of S6A).
- On August 17, 2023, a proposed class action was filed in the Northern District of California against Heartland by a Type II diabetes patient accusing the company of false advertising and other consumer protection law violations by marketing Splenda-brand “diabetes care” shakes, zero calorie sweetener packets, sweet teas and multi-use syrup products to health-conscious consumers, including those with Type 2 diabetes, as a healthy sugar alternative even though sucralose has been shown to worsen diabetes, among other alleged harms. As support for the plaintiff’s contention that Splenda products made with sucralose are neither healthy nor suitable for the claimed purposes of helping to manage blood sugar and aiding in diabetes care, the complaint cites the 2023 Schiffman paper and other published scientific articles, as well as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) May 15, 2023 guidelines urging against the long term consumption of sucralose and other nonnutritive sweeteners to achieve weight loss or to avoid non-communicable disease.
- While Heartland has not yet responded to the immediate lawsuit, the company’s press releases dispute claims in the 2023 Schiffman paper and other papers that would raise safety concerns for sucralose, highlighting alleged flaws in the research or conclusions of these papers. Another press release objects to even the limited scope of WHO’s guidance, framing it as based on evidence with a “low certainty” level. Heartland has also pointed to other favorable, and purportedly more convincing scientific studies, as well as reviews by FDA and international food regulatory authorities that support the safety of sucralose. Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor any developments in the cases involving Splenda.