FARGO — David Berg will have to wade into the sour legal dispute between the sugar and corn syrup industries despite his efforts to avoid testifying.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson rejected a motion by Berg, president and chief executive officer of American Crystal Sugar, to throw out a subpoena by lawyers representing the corn syrup industry.
The skirmish over Berg’s testimony is the latest in an ongoing legal tangle between the two sweetener groups over whether high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally the same as table sugar.
Corn syrup interests, which want to be able to offer “corn sugar,” contend that syrup from corn is nutritionally essentially the same as table sugar — a claim the sugar industry rejects.
Corn processors include Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and the Corn Refiners Association.
Berg tried to avoid testifying in the case, citing his executive schedule and contending that information he could provide could be gleaned from others.
But Erickson determined that Berg, in his capacity at American Crystal Sugar and his former leadership role in The Sugar Association, a trade group, made him a relevant witness.
Although American Crystal Sugar withdrew from The Sugar Association a few years ago – hoping to avoid the lawsuit — Berg was present in many meetings involving pertinent discussions.
Lawyers for the corn syrup industry should be able to question Berg to explore whether he made “statements or admissions” important to the lawsuit, Erickson ruled.
Berg might have been present, for example, during discussions with representatives of buyers of sugar involving statements about the impact of the Corn Refiners Association’s educational campaign and whether the sugar industry was damaged by it, Erickson wrote.
“The Court finds this is an area of relevant inquiry that may lead to admissible evidence,” the judge wrote, adding that the corn syrup industry’s lawyers should be able to “explore whether Berg has information relevant to the underlying claim for damages.”
Berg’s lawyers are trying to arrange for his testimony to take place in Fargo-Moorhead, although the case is in U.S. District Court in California.
“I just don’t really have that much to add, other than what’s in the record,” Berg said, adding that he doubts his questioning would last four or five hours.
Noting that he no longer is involved with The Sugar Association, he added, “I’m not a material witness any longer.”