PHILIPPINES: Coca Cola issues cease and desist letters to sugar industry over HFCS imports

Published: 01/12/2017, 6:47:06 AM

Sugar industry leaders said that beverage company Coca-Cola is threatening them over the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) importation issue, according to the Philippines' Sun Star newspaper.

They said the firm, through its lawyers, sent out letters last week, telling them about its plan to file of charges following their press statements over the use of the company of HFCS, which is allegedly from genetically modified corn, on its soft drink products.

The separate letters, which were addressed to planter federations presidents, are asking them to "cease and desist" from issuing statements to the media, lawmakers, and to the public that falsely imputes the beverage company the use of HFCS. Otherwise, criminal, civil, and administrative cases will be filed.

Manila-based law firm Cruz, Marcelo and Tenefrancia stated that these statements "defame and discredit its client."

Enrique Rojas, president of National Federation of Sugarcane Planters (NFSP), who also received the said letter, dismissed what he perceived as harassment and bullying from a large multi-national company against Filipino farmers.

"Instead of threatening the sugar industry with criminal, civil, and administrative charges, they should take this opportunity to come clean with its consumers," Rojas said in a press statement on Wednesday.

Manuel Lamata, president of United Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines (Unifed), also confirmed receiving the letter from the firm's lawyers.

"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 in the same press statement.

Sugar millers and farmers insist that HFCS importation by beverage makers and food processors displaced the demand for locally-produced sugar, thereby driving down sugar prices. From a high of more than PHP1,800 (US$36.36) per 50-kilo bag at the start of crop year 2016/17 last September, millgate prices of raw sugar have declined to less than PHP1,500 per bag in the last week of December. In 2016 alone, HFCS importation has caused PHP10.5 billion losses to the sugar industry, according to sugar producers.

The Confederation of Sugar Producers Inc. (Confed) also joined the mounting call for the Sugar Regulatory Administration and government officials to act on the massive of entry of HFCS by beverage and food producers that is bound to kill the sugar industry.

Records culled from the Bureau of Customs for 2016 showed that HFCS imports reached 234,863 metric tonnes, or an equivalent of 352,294.5 metric tonnes of sugar.

"This spells a loss of PHP10.5 billion to the industry and since sugar farming is still the economic lifeblood of Negros, this will result to an economic disaster if not addressed," said Francis de la Rama, Confed national president, in a separate statement.

Congressmen from Negros, which produces more than half of national sugar output, are poised to conduct a congressional inquiry on the massive importation of HFCS by beverage makers and food processors. Negros Occidental Vice Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson said the Congress is the proper venue to investigate the entry of HFCS.

He also called on sugar industry stakeholders to pursue a dialogue with food processors and industrial users. "They should be reminded that they could kill an industry that patronizes their product," the vice governor said.

Lacson said the Provincial Board will support any move of Congress to conduct an investigation.