Lawsuits alleging fraud – Truvia is not a "natural sweetener" are heating up!

Have you googled Truvia lately?  I have – wow, tons of articles about it.  Most of the articles have to do with Truvia being marketed fraudulently as a natural sweetner.   I did not know that Truvia was not a natural sweetner.   I guess that I too was fooled.  Well, some people have gone to the courts to make Cargill Inc. pay for their false advertising.   The results?  Cargill has started to pay out millions for its’ marketing practices.

A little history on Truvia as reported by a recent New York Times Article.

 The natural, noncaloric sweetener Truvia is made from the leaves of a Paraguayan shrub, now sits in second place in the $400 million market for sugar-bowl sachets. (Sucralose hangs on at No. 1.) When Cargill introduced the leading brand of stevia, called Truvia, in 2008, the company heralded it as œa new category of sweet. Sure enough, imitators followed. A few weeks later, Merisant put out PureVia ” made from the same ingredient ” and then the manufacturer of Sweet’N Low started filling light green packets with what it called Stevia in the Raw.

Because it came from a plant, stevia seemed to offer a way to sneak around the rules. The industry soon discovered that its salvation would have to be postponed. For all the hype, stevia had a fatal flaw: Its taste.  Truvia feels a lot like sugar  but the flavor leaves a bitter taste that lingers.  As the author so accurately finds, the defect may be unobtrusive in small doses ” the amount you sprinkle in your cappuccino ” but it’s ruinous at the quantities it takes to make a diet soda.  So, they had to add other “additives” to make it sweeter. 

So what is in truvia?

Truvia has three ingredients:  erythritol, rebiana, and natural flavors.  Rebiana is made from the stevia leaf by soaking it in water. The second  ingredient is it’s main ingredient, erythritol. Erythritol is a naturally-occurring sweetener found in many fruits; in nature it is present in such small amounts (less than .005% by weight) it’s impractical to use natural sources. So Cargill manufacturers Truvia’s erythritol by processing corn into a food grade starch which it ferments to create glucose and then processes further to create erythritol.  Finally,  Cargill uses œnatural flavors to round out the taste of Truvia.  On Truvia’s website it says œ¦ Natural flavors are used to bring out the best of our natural sweetness, like pepper or salt would be used to heighten the taste of a meal.  The processed food industry’s dirty little secret about œnatural flavors is that the only legal requirement is that they are chemically equivalent to a natural flavor.  What????  Shame on you FDA. 

As the marketing for Truvia took off, some consumers started to wonder also wonder if the natural sweeteners aren’t simply different flavors of the products they’ve been trying to avoid.   Over a year ago,  a 58-year-old woman living in Hawaii filed suit against Big Stevia. In March she bought a box of Truvia at Walmart because she thought it was a natural product. Now she’s convinced it’s no such thing. Her complaint declared that œReb-A is not the natural crude preparation of stevia, and that its manufacture is not œsimilar to making tea, as Cargill’s packaging suggests. Rather, it’s œa highly chemically processed and purified form of stevia-leaf extract.

 Hers was not the only attack on Cargill’s natural sweetener. In ongoing negotiations to settle a similar suit, Cargill has offered to remove the phrase œsimilar to making tea from the packaging and/or add an asterisk to the product’s tagline, œNature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener, directing people to a website F.A.Q. That page would explain that Truvia contains very little stevia, by weight, and that its main ingredient ” erythritol ” comes from yeast that may be fed with genetically modified corn sugar. œAs with almost all finished food products, the F.A.Q. would say, œthe journey from field to table involves some processing.

 This past fall reported that there was a $5 million proposed settlement which was agreed to by Cargill Inc, potentially ending a consumer fraud class action lawsuit alleging the food manufacturer misled consumers into believing its Truvia stevia sweetener is œnatural. According to the consumer fraud lawsuit, entitled The Truvia False Advertising Class Action Lawsuit is Martin, et al. v. Cargill Inc., Case No. 13-cv-2563, U.S. District Court of Minnesota, the main ingredients in Cargill’s Truvia stevia sweetener are œhighly processed and/or derived from GMOs. However, the proposed Truvia settlement was rejected after a Minnesota federal judge found there was no indication in the record that the Hawaii plaintiffs had been advised that a settlement had been reached. The judge expressed concern about the fact that the settlement was reached so soon after the class action lawsuit was filed and that the parties did not provide an opportunity for plaintiffs in the other pending lawsuits to object.

There is recent news regarding other lawsuits against Cargill, Inc.  Recently, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation said  it will not consolidate four proposed class actions alleging Cargill Inc. misleadingly labels and markets its Truvia sweetener products as œnatural, finding the cases may end up being transferred to one location anyway.

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