Sugar industry leaders denounced the letters sent them last week by Coca-Cola, through its lawyers, threatening criminal, civil and administrative charges against them due to their press statements, published in local and national newspapers, on the softdrink maker's use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), allegedly from genetically modified corn, a press release from the group said.
In letters addressed to planters federations presidents, the Manila-based law firm Cruz, Marcelo & Tenefrancia claimed that these statements, particularly the use of HFCS from alleged GMO corn, defames and discredits its client, Coca-Cola.
The letters demanded that the industry leaders cease and desist from issuing statements through the media, to lawmakers, and to the public in general, that may falsely impute upon Coca-Cola the use of HFCS supposedly sourced from genetically-modified cancer-causing corn or they will be constrained to commence the appropriate criminal, civil and administrative cases to protect their clients' rights, the Coca-Cola lawyers said in the letter.
Enrique Rojas, president of the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters, one of the recipients of the letter, dismissed what he perceived as harassment and bullying from a large multi-national company against Filipino farmers, the press release said.
“Instead of threatening the sugar industry with criminal, civil and administrative charges, Coca-Cola should take this opportunity to come clean with its consumers. Coca-Cola has admitted that it is using HFCS for its beverages. Where does it source its HFCS? In terms of percentages, how much HFCS does Coca-Cola use compared to sugar sourced from the Philippines? Filipino consumers and farmers need to know,” Rojas said.
Unifed president Manolet Lamata, who confirmed that he also received such a letter, said “We will not be cowed by these threats of criminal, civil and administrative sanctions. The sugar industry has faced numerous problems in the past and we have prevailed over them all. We are not strangers to fighting smugglers and even corporate giants,” Lamata said.
“Coca-Cola should understand that the use and importation of HFCS affects the survival of sugar farmers. I and other leaders of the sugar industry will definitely not take this lying down. We will continue fighting for the survival of the sugar farmers,” Lamata added.
The issue on HFCS importation grabbed the front pages of newspapers after sugar producers blamed massive HFCS importation as the cause of the decline of millgate sugar prices. Sugar millers and farmers insisted that HFCS importation by beverage makers and food processors displaced the demand for locally-produced sugar, thereby driving down sugar prices, the press release said.
From a high of more than P1,800 per 50-kilo bag at the start of Crop Year 2016-2017 last September, millgate prices of raw sugar have declined to less than P1,500 per bag during the last week of December, it said.
Sugar leaders have been calling on the Sugar Regulatory Administration to exercise its mandate in protecting the industry, by regulating the importation and use of sugar and other sweetener substitutes.
Solons from Negros, which produces more than half of national sugar output, are poised to conduct a congressional inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the massive importation of HFCS by beverage makers and food processors, the press release also said.*
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