FARGO, N.D. (AP) — American Crystal Sugar Co. CEO David Berg should testify in a federal lawsuit pitting the refined sugar manufacturers against the corn syrup industry, a federal judge ruled Wednesday after presiding over a hearing in the case.
Berg, head of the largest sugar beet processor in the country, had contested a subpoena to testify in the case, in which the refined sugar makers are suing over the corn syrup industry's marketing claim that sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are nutritionally the same.
Berg argued that American Crystal Sugar did not participate in the lawsuit and he could not offer relevant information. Lawyers for the corn syrup group said Berg was a leader in the Sugar Association and would be a better witness than the plaintiffs because he's a "bystander" to the suit.
In denying Berg's motion to throw out the subpoena, U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson cited the impact of an educational campaign by the corn syrup marketers and questions about whether the sugar industry was damaged by it.
"The court finds this is an area of relevant inquiry that may lead to admissible evidence and defendants should be allowed to explore whether Berg has information relevant to the underlying claims for damages," Erickson said in his order.
The lawsuit was filed in California in 2011. American Crystal, which is based in Moorhead, Minnesota, and has plants in three states, declined to participate because the company was worried about the time and money that would be spent in litigation and preferred the issue be debated with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said David Bunde, Berg's attorney.
Bunde said other officials are better qualified than Berg to testify.
Cornelius Murphy, the lawyer for the corn syrup group, replied that his team has exhausted its attempts to get information from plaintiffs, a couple of whom gave hundreds of "I don't recall" responses during depositions. Berg would have less bias than other sugar executives, Murphy said.
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