16 April 2007

A 53 Billion Dollar Metaphysical Question

Are only wooden things made from wood? Would charcoal, for instance, also be made from wood, since the process of making charcoal begins with wood?

Similarly, are only sugary things made from sugar? Is the artificial sweetener, Splenda, also made from sugar, if it is produced by beginning with a sugar molecule, and then replacing some of its constituents with chlorine?

Arguably a metaphysician is needed to decide such questions. But, if so, then there is now a legal case in which the expert most relevant to serve as an expert witness would be a metaphysician (and presumably an Aristotle expert too, since Aristotle speaks most directly to such questions)! Expect $500/hour, minimum. (One never knows when a 'liberal art' will prove relevant.)

Merisant, the maker of Equal, is suing McNeil Nutritionals, the maker of Splenda, on the grounds that McNeill's claims on behalf of the product ($53 billion annual sales) are misleading.

From last Friday's Wall Street Journal:

McNeil says that it has used the same promotional claims for Splenda -- "Made from sugar, tastes like sugar" and "Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar" -- in all packaging and advertising since its launch. It declines to comment on having dropped the "But it's not sugar" line. McNeil stands by its claims.

Merisant lodged a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in late 2004, four years after Splenda's launch and two years after privately complaining to McNeil.

McNeil then sued Merisant in Puerto Rico, seeking a judgment that its ads are not misleading, and alleging that Merisant complained after a judge in Puerto Rico had barred Merisant from selling a product with packaging that closely resembled Splenda's.

Merisant responded by filing suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in November 2004, where the case will now be heard before a jury. McNeil then consented to the dismissal of its case in Puerto Rico, according to a memorandum by federal District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter.

Jurors will have to endure a heavy-duty chemistry lesson. One of Splenda's main ingredients is sucralose, a chemical entity manufactured in a lab that McNeil makes from sucrose, or table sugar.

Its patented technique replaces some of the chemical groups found in sugar with chlorine, creating a substance that McNeil says is not recognized by the body as a carbohydrate and has no calories.

Merisant alleges that Splenda shouldn't be able to claim that it's "made from sugar," since sugar is not one of the ingredients on its product label and the use of the phrase misleads consumers into thinking the product is natural or contains sugar. McNeil said in a statement that Splenda is made from pure cane sugar by a patented process that makes three atomic changes to the sugar molecule.

McNeil presumably chose Puerto Rico as a favorable venue because that is where massive quantities of cane sugar used in the making of Splenda are grown and purchased! But if McNeil's lawyers had really been canny, and recognized the dispute as primarily a metaphysical one, which venue should they actually have sought? Princeton? Cambridge? Los Angeles? The Southern District of New York?


Biby Cletus said...

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Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

JIW said...

Sounds to me like the tricky bit is understanding the precise sense of 'from' in 'Y is made from X'. I don't think it need imply that X is an ingredient in Y (as one of Merisant's arguments seems to assume). Reminds me of the difficulty in making sense of the Ionians' claims that the kosmos is 'ek', say, water.

Dismas said...

I'm not sure how much sugar production there is still in Puerto Rico. It's fallen dramatically, thanks to cheaper sugar from other countries. However, there is a large pharmaceutical and chemical production component still on the island. Agriculture in total currently accounts for 3% of labor, 1% of GDP of P.R.

Jason_Pappas said...

There is a difference between “made from wood” and “made of wood.” Some things made from wood aren’t made of wood since the chemical or physical transformation has change wood into something else.

My annoying 6th grade teacher once said that sometimes one plus one equal one. Her example was two balls of clay made into one ball of clay. Of course, while it was one plus one it was two and when it was no longer one plus one it was no longer two. Her slight of hand was to ignore the clause about being “at the same time.”

The Philosopher says: “It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect …” but then again you knew that.

You are right; they need metaphysical help!