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A low-carb orange alert

To hear Florida Department of Citrus director Bob Crawford tell it, those obnoxious low-carb dieters have gone too far. "There are powerful, negative messages against us," he said Wednesday. "We're not going to stand and take it."

There's one small problem here. The "powerful, negative message" that riles Crawford is that orange juice is loaded with sugar and carbohydrates, which just happens to be true. While a glass of orange juice supplies fiber, folic acid, potassium and all the vitamin C a person needs in a day, it also comes with as many carbohydrates as a can of Coke.

Crawford, though, is planning to spend $1.8-million on a marketing campaign to combat this "negative message." More ominously, he also says he is ready to deploy lawyers to sue those who would defame orange juice. Florida has its own constitutionally dubious "veggie libel" law, thanks in part to the intense lobbying of the citrus industry, and Crawford seems ready to test it. Texas cattle ranchers went after Oprah; maybe Crawford has his sights set on Dr. Phil.

The citrus department's attorney is already eying The South Beach Diet. In his bestseller, author Arthur Agatston writes: "Again, fruit juices are a big source of trouble, in part because we've come to associate them with healthy habits. But they also bring with them high levels of fructose (sugar), which can be the undoing of any effort to lose weight." How is this libel? As nutritional advice goes, it is considerably more modest than the department's own claims that citrus products help prevent cancer, heart disease and birth defects.

As Crawford readies a campaign to advance the notion that orange juice has "smart carbs," as opposed to "empty carbs," he might want to compare notes with Tropicana Products Inc. The Bradenton-based producer has responded to the 17 percent drop in per capita orange juice consumption with a different approach. It just launched a new product, called Light 'n Healthy, that cuts the calories and carbohydrates by more than a third.

Tropicana is promoting its new juice as an alternative for those who want the nutritional benefits and taste without all the calories. Its promotional materials say that "cutting back on calories is a good way to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle." Is Tropicana also libeling orange juice?