By: Chris Prentice

The head of the main U.S. sugar marketing lobby has stepped down after nearly 13 years, leaving the powerful industry group at a time of growing public concern about the health effects of excessive consumption of sweeteners.

Andrew Briscoe III resigned on Friday from his post as president and chief executive officer of the Sugar Association, the chief Washington group that defends sugar marketing, according to a note sent to industry members seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The 73-year-old association has promoted its vice president of scientific affairs Courtney Gaine to take the helm on an interim basis. Gaine has a PhD in nutritional sciences and biochemistry and a bachelor's degree in dietetics.

"During a time when misunderstandings about sugar are commonplace, there is both a great need and an excellent opportunity to educate consumers on the decades of scientific research regarding sugar," said Gaine in a statement.

Brian O'Malley, chairman of the group and chief of member ASR Group's Domino Foods, said in the statement that Gaine's installment reinforces its commitment to science.

Briscoe's resignation came a day after the latest development in the so-called "war on sugar," or what some critics call the other white drug. Last Thursday, the U.S. government recommended for the first time that people limit the amount of added sugars in their diet to no more than 10 percent of daily calories.

The resignation also came two months after the Sugar Association settled a lawsuit with corn syrup producers, ending a bitter, years-long dispute. The sugar and corn syrup industries has been fighting for market share amid declining per capita consumption of sweeteners.

The Sugar Association has donated to a nonprofit that pushes for labeling of high-fructose corn syrup.

Briscoe has been a vehement defender of sugar, pushing back against criticism stemming from its links to health epidemics like obesity and diabetes.

"As we begin a new year, it is an appropriate time for me to begin a new chapter," Briscoe said in a note dated Jan. 12, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

Briscoe had previously been director of public policy and vice president of the Salt Institute.

Sugar Association members include powerful lobbying groups like the American Sugar Cane League, ASR Group – a vertically-integrated cane refiner owned by the politically-connected Fanjul family – and Louis Dreyfus commodities' [AKIRAU.UL] Imperial Sugar Co.

(Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Originally Published: Reuters