Tate & Lyle sues Chinese over Splenda

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The sugar giant Tate & Lyle launched legal action yesterday against a Chinese company that stands accused of stealing its sucralose manufacturing technology as well as six importers of sucralose into the US.

A cut-price version of Tate & Lyle's big-selling artificial sweetener Splenda appeared in some stores of the US retail giant Wal-Mart at the start of the year. Tate & Lyle said then that it had analysed samples of the product, called Altern, and concluded that it contained an active ingredient of Chinese origin. Altern is now on sale at Wal-Mart stores across the US. Previously, Wal-Mart was forced to withdraw a first batch of sweetener that was identical to Tate & Lyle's sucralose.

Wal-Mart is not mentioned in the lawsuit. A spokeswoman for Tate & Lyle said: "The focus is on the manufacturers and importers of sucralose." The group's US subsidiary filed a suit in the US Federal Court for Central Illinois against China's Hebei Sukerui Science as well as five US importers and one Chinese importer of sucralose. No figure has been put on the damages claim. Federal cases of this kind usually take 18 to 24 months before reaching trial.

Robert Gibber, the company's general counsel, said: "We have a robust estate of patents and will, as we have always said, vigorously defend and enforce them."

Splenda accounts for just over a fifth of Tate & Lyle's profits. It has also come under attack from consumer groups in the US. The Citizens for Health group asked US regulators to pull sucralose off the market, claiming it could cause gastrointestinal problems, headaches and rashes.

But Tate & Lyle said there was no evidence whatsoever that sucralose causes any side effects.