by Marion Nestle
Mar 3 2010

Cheers to FDA: health claim warnings!

Here are some excerpts from today’s FDA press release, “FDA Calls on Food Companies to Correct Labeling Violations; FDA Commissioner Issues an Open Letter to the Industry.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has notified 17 food manufacturers that the labeling for 22 of their food products violates the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act…In an open letter to Industry dated March 3, 2010, Dr. Hamburg underscored the importance of providing nutrition information that consumers could rely on.

…The violations cited in the warning letters include unauthorized health claims, unauthorized nutrient content claims, and the unauthorized use of terms such as “healthy,” and others that have strict, regulatory definitions.  Companies that received warning letters have 15 business days to inform the FDA of the steps they will take to correct their labeling.

Take a look at what the FDA is saying, starting with a handy chart of the affected companies, their products, and the ways their claims violate FDA regulations.  Some of my favorite examples are on this chart (for example, Juicy Juice!).

The FDA also provides:

What’s behind all this?  Take a look at Center for Science in the Public Interest’s extraordinary report on violations of FDA regulations on food package labels, Food Labeling Chaos.  No way can the FDA – or anyone else – ignore this report.

Cheers to the FDA for taking this on!

Update March 4:  The New York Times was able to reach some of the affected companies. They all say the same thing (my translation): we are shocked, shocked.  We would never tell a lie.  We will do everything we can to cooperate (make sure the FDA backs down on this).

  • The juicy juice claim is definitely the most deceiving on the list. I’m surprised to see Nature Path’s Cereal on the list. I guess I wasn’t aware that omega-3 claims have yet to be approved. Good to know. When are they going to start restricting supplement claims?

  • JeanB

    I applaud the FDA’s actions, but we all need to remember that the primary responsibility for knowing what we’re putting into our mouths — and our children’s — rests with each of us. Not the government, not the food processors, not even the chefs or the farmers…US. Thanks, Marion, for being such a great resource to help all of us make informed food decisions!

  • jeanB, you miss the point. For decades, all we’ve had is what the buyer beware system you advocate, and that is exactly what has led to the labeling chaos by an industry run amok. I am always amazed that when government does the bare minimum of its job, people act like it’s Big Brother. This action is long overdue, and should be encouraged, as it’s only the tip of the iceberg for what’s needed. Thank you Marion for helping to spur this important policy shift.

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  • Thank god for this! The other day I almost ate an apple, but luckily I realized just in time that I didn’t know whether or not it was authorized. Whew!

    If there’s anything more dangerous than unauthorized, well, I can’t even begin to imagine it. Thankfully our High Fructose Corn Syrup is duly authorized! Drink up gentlemen, mmmm, nature’s pure wholesome goodness!

  • ET Addison

    For the first product on the list:

    “The front panel shows that the product has no trans fat, but it doesn’t have a disclosure statement to alert consumers that the product has significant levels of saturated fat and total fat.”

    I would suggest that the FDA, has ZERO evidence that cutting saturated fat has ANY effect whatsoever on health. This is an unsubstantiated health claim, but everyone shrugs and accepts it as fact.

    I would require the FDA to produce evidence that saturated fat is harmful, and that reducing saturated fat has ANY EFFECT whatsoever on improving health.

    Politically correct does not equal scientifically correct.

  • Louis Collins

    Excellent news! Finally, a regulatory body acting like a regulatory body in the public interest instead of a de-regulatory body in the corporate interest. Go, FDA!

  • Joseph

    I wonder what the FDA is actually accomplishing with this initiative and others like it. To me it seems that they always end up helping the giant companies with terrible business practices (e.g. Monsanto) and hurting the few small farmers who are left to remind us what integrity in the food business really is. I find the FDA out of touch with the reality that I would like to support as someone with an interest in keeping healthy food available to average Americans.

  • fuzzy

    Why aren’t we hearing anything here about Monsanto and the Alfalfa?

  • Pete

    I agree with ET Addison. The label should just list facts. Thats it. No greater credence given to any one nutirent. Just tell me what’s in it and I’ll decide if it’s healthy. This is FDA action is a good start because the average person is easily influenced by good marketing. I still tend to crave kicking back with a budweiser when I’m stressed, even though I don’t drink! But the constant bombardement by marketers over my lifetime of images portraying “Bud = relaxing fun” creeps into my mind. You would be amazed at how may people I see picking Nature Valley granola bars in the vending machine in my office becuase they consider it a healthy choice. My brother -in-law constantly gives us “made with whole grain” labeled foods for our son becuase he knows we are “into” organics and thinks that’s the same thing. You can’t punish or expolit peoples ignorance and call it business.

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  • Elisabeth

    I quit caring what the FDA does a long time ago. I watch them like an enemy. I can’t cheer on an organization that has a long unsavory history of corruption. Frankly, my family doesn’t need them to regulate labeling- we aren’t taken in by advertising.

  • jon w

    what a crock. CSPI are the same ones that squealed to replace saturated fats with trans fats a couple decades back. how many people died from that? still waiting for an apology. FDA is bought and paid for by lobbyists.

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  • we use a national panasonic food processor and this seems to be a bang for the buck*`: