"By using the word "sugar" and the phrase "made from sugar" over and over again in its advertising, Johnson & Johnson it trying to confuse consumers into believing that Splenda is a natural product," said FCAN.
The group is reiterating the line already being peddled by the US sugar association and Merisant that Splenda is, in fact, a man-made chemical compound. FCAN wants the FTC to make Johnson & Johnson suspend the marketing campaign and "set the record straight".
"Splenda is produced through a chemical process that involves chlorination and phosgene gas, a major industrial chemical used to make plastics and pesticides," said Bill Newton, executive director of FCAN. "That's not a process anyone would think of when they think 'natural.'"
McNeil Nutritionals filed a court action in U.S. District Court in Delaware on 8 February for false advertising and deceptive trade practices against the sugar association and its members in an effort to stop the organization "from continuing to make false and misleading claims about Splenda".
The sugar association had filed a lawsuit in December against McNeil Nutritionals, which hinged on "deceptive and/or misleading representations", made by the sweetener firm in "advertisements and marketing terminology".
Previous to this, Merisant, the US maker of tabletop sweetener Equal and NutraSweet and a competitor to Splenda, had alleged in November that the product's marketing slogan, "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar," had mislead consumers into thinking the artificial sweetener was "natural."
McNeil Nutritionals asserts that sucralose starts off as pure cane sugar, and is then chemically altered in the manufacturing process to create a new compound with zero calories and 600 times sweeter than sugar.
A currently booming market for the Splenda product may, or may not, feel the impact of the US court cases.
"From our perspective, whatever the outcome of the litigation, sucralose will still be made from sugar, and still taste like sugar," a spokesperson at Tate and Lyle, that manufactures the Splenda brand, said in December.
Sucralose was developed jointly by McNeil Nutritionals and sugar giant Tate & Lyle. The British firm became the sole manufacturer of Splenda earlier this year after reaching an agreement with McNeil Nutritionals.
More than 3,500 products are now sweetened with sucralose, the companies claim. The ingredient retains its taste after being heated, which means it is suitable for use in products that are baked and pasteurised.
According to Datamonitor, the ingredient was used in 1,436 new products worldwide in 2004, up from 573 in 2003 and 35 in 1999.
Growth looks strong on the back of rising health concerns, driving consumers towards sugar free products and food makers introduce zero-calorie or low-calorie sugar substitutes into their new product formulations.
Market analysts Freedonia predict growth of intensity sweeteners at around 8.3 per cent year on year until 2008, with sales rising from a small base of $81m in 1998 to $189m in 2008.