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Legally Sweet

Conflict over the essences of sweeteners and olive oils brings chemistry into the courtroom

Roald Hoffmann

Editor's note: The sugar-substitute trial ended in a settlement (terms not disclosed) on May 11, after the jury announced it had reached a verdict. News reports speculated that the jury's decision would have been favorable to Equal's claims against Splenda.

Equal%20and%20Splenda%20boxingClick to Enlarge ImageAs I write this, a Philadelphia jury is learning some chemistry as it ponders a lawsuit brought by the makers of Equal (Merisant) against Splenda's manufacturers (McNeil Nutritionals). The jury members will also be probing our attitudes toward the natural and the unnatural, parsing words and getting at the essence of advertising.

It's about money, of course: the $1.5 billion market for artificial sweeteners. Equal's share of the market has fallen; Splenda's has risen dramatically, to 62 percent of the U.S. market. Equal's Merisant accuses Splenda's McNeil Nutritionals of gaining its edge by misleading consumers into thinking Splenda was somehow natural. Splenda's ads say "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar."

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