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CSPI Urges FDA Crackdown on False & Misleading Food Labeling
New Report Makes Case for Ending Food Labeling Chaos
WASHINGTON‹Can orange juice really help prevent or treat arthritis?
That's the implication on the label of a Minute Maid orange juice
fortified with glucosamine hydrochloride "designed to help protect
healthy joints." And it¹s exactly the kind of misleading health claim
that the Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the federal
government to stop. Today the group is sending the Food and Drug
Administration a 158-page report that documents some of the most
egregious examples of false claims, ingredient obfuscations, and other
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Though under the Obama Administration the FDA is sending more warning
letters to food manufacturers about misleading labeling, many major
companies, including Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Kraft, General Mills, and
Nestlé, continue to confuse or defraud consumers about the health
effects, ingredients, or "natural"-ness of their products. Some notable
Kellogg: On labels for Smart Start Strawberry Oat Bites cereal, the
company deliberately misreads a report from the Institute of Medicine to
claim, falsely, that consumers can eat 125 grams‹more than half a cup‹of
added sugars per day. CSPI says FDA should establish a Daily Value for
added sugars, require its disclosure on Nutrition Facts panels, and
provide definitions for terms such as "low sugar."
Nestlé: Labels for the company's Carnation Instant Breakfast
misleadingly claim that its antioxidants "help support the immune
system." While it is true that serious deficiencies in vitamins A, C,
and E and other antioxidants can lead to serious health problems,
consuming this or other products that make this common claim won¹t help
ward off colds, the flu, or other maladies.
Kashi: A Kellogg-owned brand, Kashi falsely claims that the green tea in
its Heart to Heart Instant Oatmeal will "support healthy arteries." The
FDA does have a so-called qualified health claim for green tea that
relates to cancer but has not agreed that green tea can protect arteries
or fend off heart disease.
Glacéau: The Coca-Cola-owned product bears a confusing double-column
Nutrition Facts label that gives the impression that a 20-ounce bottle
of VitaminWater contains multiple servings. Yet the company knows full
well that the product is typically consumed by one person on a single
occasion, delivering 125 calories, not the 50 in a "serving." CSPI says
the dual-column format should be barred.
Edy's: Labels for Dibs Bite Sized Snacks boast "0g trans fat!"‹giving
the impression that the product is heart-healthy. Yet a serving of this
ice cream snack has 16 grams of saturated fat‹80 percent of the daily
value. CSPI says the FDA should prohibit companies from boasting of "0
grams trans" on foods with more than 1 gram of saturated fat per
serving. FDA already has similar limits on "cholesterol free" and
Thomas': Labels for Thomas' Hearty Grains English Muffins claim that the
food is "made with the goodness of whole grain² and ³made with whole
grains." Yet the primary ingredient is "unbleached enriched wheat
flour," meaning white flour. The product has more water than whole wheat
flour, which is the third ingredient.
Gerber: Labels for Gerber Graduates Juice Treats‹a product intended for
pre-schoolers‹picture an abundance of fruit: oranges, grapes, peaches,
cherries, pineapple, and raspberries. Yet there is no cherry, orange, or
pineapple in the product, and less than 2 percent is raspberry and apple
juice concentrate. The main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar,
providing 17 grams‹or about four teaspoons‹of refined sugars per serving.
The main ingredients are corn syrup and sugar, not the abundance of
fruit shown on the package, providing 17 grams‹or about four
teaspoons‹of refined sugars per serving.
Minute Maid: The words "all natural" appear on Minute Maid's Cranberry
Apple Cocktail. Yet the product contains added citric acid‹meaning
citric acid that didn¹t occur naturally in the juice. FDA has long held
that adding citric acid disqualifies a company from claiming the food is
all natural. This product also contains high-fructose corn syrup‹the end
result of a highly complex series of chemical changes whereby corn
starch is converted to glucose and fructose. FDA should disallow "all
natural" claims on food that contain HFCS, according to CSPI.
"For far too long, some of the world's biggest food manufacturers have
designed their labels either to exaggerate the amount of healthy
ingredients, or to imply that the food has magical, drug-like qualities
that could prevent or treat various health problems," said CSPI legal
affairs director Bruce Silverglade. "The Bush Administration gave
manufacturers more and more license to deceive. But the party¹s over‹or
at least it should be."
In May, the FDA instructed General Mills to drop exaggerated heart
disease and cancer claims on labels and its web site for its Cheerios
cereal. And in October, FDA expressed concern over the industry-wide
Smart Choices front-of-packaging labeling program. Both moves were
praised by CSPI and were seen as a sign that the agency will more
aggressively police food labeling.
CSPI wants the agency to prohibit qualified health claims for foods.
Unlike "health claims," which must meet a "significant scientific
agreement" standard, qualified health claims include disclaimers
explaining that the scientific evidence is uncertain. CSPI also wants
the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prohibit misleading
"structure/function" claims that a given food will "support" or
"maintain" healthy immune systems, joints, vision, and so on. Consumers
simply can't distinguish between stringently regulated health claims,
which require FDA approval, and structure/function claims, which don¹t,
according to CSPI.
"Consumers need honest labeling so they can spend their food dollars
wisely and avoid diet-related disease," said CSPI senior staff attorney
Ilene Ringel Heller, co-author of the report. "Companies should market
their foods without resorting to the deceit and dishonesty that's so
common today. And, if they don't, the FDA should make them."
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