HONOLULU – A lawsuit filed in Hawaii accuses Cargill of unfair, deceptive and unlawful business practices with respect to the marketing, advertising, labeling and sales of Truvia natural sweeteners. Filed July 8 by Denise Howerton, a consumer, in the U.S. District Court, District of Hawaii, the lawsuit claims the stevia extract used in Truvia is not natural because of an extraction process and that the erythritol used in Truvia also is not natural.

“A class action lawsuit was brought against Cargill’s Truvia natural sweetener consumer products claiming they should not be marketed as natural,” Cargill said in a statement. “These claims are false. We stand behind our Truvia natural sweetener products, and we plan to aggressively defend the lawsuit.”

The lawsuit said the plaintiff paid more for Truvia tabletop sweetener than other tabletop sweeteners because she believed it to be a natural sweetener. Truvia costs about 300% more per packet than Sweet ‘N Low and 67% more per packet than Splenda, according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff did not receive a natural sweetener primarily made from the stevia plant; rather, she received a product that is made predominantly of a synthetic ingredient with only a miniscule amount of Reb A, which itself is harshly chemically purified, in contradiction to defendant’s representations,” the lawsuit said.

Cargill, Wayzata, Minn., isolates Rebaudioside A, a steviol glycoside, from the rest of the stevia plant in the production of Truvia. Cargill has manufactured, distributed and sold Truvia since 2008. Since ethanol, methanol or rubbing alcohol is used in a patented, multi-step process to purify Reb A, Truvia should not be considered natural, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also points out Reb A comprises 1% of Truvia. The main ingredient by weight is erythritol, a bulking agent. According to Cargill, erythritol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in various fruits such as grapes and melons.

According to the lawsuit, the erythritol used in Truvia should not be considered natural based on U.S. Patent No. 0037266, which involves the production of erythritol crystals. In the processing, starch is extracted chemically from bioengineered corn and then converted to glucose through the biochemical process of enzymatic hydrolysis. The glucose is fermented through the use of moniliella pollinis, a yeast. The fermentation broth is sterilized, filtered and purified to produce erythritol crystals.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it is difficult to define a food product that is 'natural' because the food probably has been processed and is no longer a product of the earth. The F.D.A. has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.