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FDA: Labels Misleading on Major Food Brands

webmd.com | Daniel J. DeNoon | 03/04/10

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The FDA today warned 17 food makers -- including POM Nestle -- that their "misleading" product labels violate federal law.

The warning letters say the firms face having their products pulled from grocery shelves if they don't make changes within 15 days.

It's a new get-tough policy, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg suggested in an open letter to the food industry.

"We continue to see products marketed with labeling that violates established labeling standards," Hamburg wrote. "To address these concerns, FDA is notifying a number of manufacturers that their labels are in violation of the law and subject to legal proceedings to remove misbranded products from the marketplace."

The FDA says the 17 cited firms committed different kinds of violations:

  • Claims that the food products treat or mitigate disease. Such claims mean the food is actually an unapproved new drug, the FDA says.
  • Misleading labels on blended juice products that make them appear to be made entirely from a single juice.
  • "Healthy" claims that do not meet established standards for use of the term.
  • Claims that a product is free of trans fats on products high in unhealthy saturated fats.
  • Nutrient claims on foods for children under age 2 that are approved only for use on foods for adults.

The 17 firms cited, and the products with "misleading" labels, are:

  • Beech-nut: Beech-Nut Good Morning Whole Grain Oatmeal with Mixed Fruit (nutrient claims on products for small children)
  • Diamond Food Inc.: Diamond Shelled Walnuts (unauthorized health claims)
  • Dreyers Grand Ice Cream Inc.: Nestle Drumstick Classic Vanilla Fudge and Dreyer's Dibs Bite Sized Ice Cream Snacks Vanilla Ice Cream (unsupported nutrient claim; trans-fat-free claim on high saturated-fat product)
  • First Juice Inc.: Organic Fruit and Veggie Juice Beverage products (unauthorized nutrient and health claims)
  • Fleminger Inc.: TeaForHealth green tea products (promoted for conditions that cause the products to be drugs)
  • Gorton's Inc.: Gorton's Beer Batter Crispy Battered Fish Fillets (trans-fat free claim on high-saturated-fat product)
  • Ken's Foods Inc.: Healthy Options Parmesan & Peppercorn, Sweet Vidalia Onion Vinaigrette, and Raspberry Walnut Dressing (unauthorized health claims; low-fat claims on product high in fats)
  • Nature's Path Foods Inc.: Organic Flax Plus Multigrain Cereal (unapproved nutrient claim)
  • Nestle USA: several Juicy Juice products (misleading claims of juice content; nutrient claims on products for small children)
  • PBM Products: some Parent's Choice cereal products (nutrient claims on products for small children)
  • Pompeian: Pompeian Imported Extra Light Olive Oil ("light" claim for product high in fat; unsupported nutrient claim)
  • POM Wonderful: POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and POMx products (promoted for conditions that cause the products to be drugs)
  • Redco Foods: Salada Naturally Decaffeinated Green Tea (promoted for conditions that cause the product to be a drug)
  • Schwan's Consumer Brands: Mrs. Smith's Classic Coconut Custard Pie (trans-fat-free claim on product high in saturated fat)
  • Spectrum Organic Products Inc.: Organic All Vegetable Shortening (cholesterol-free claim on product high in fats)
  • Sunsweet Growers: Sunsweet Antioxidant Blend dried fruit mix (unapproved nutrient claim)
  • Want Want Foods: Baby Mum-Mum Original Selected Superior Rice Rusks (nutrient claim on product for small children)

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I don't get it. If a product is plant-based, even if it's high in fat, it's still cholesterol-free. So why is the FDA up in arms about Spectrum shortening?

It's misleading because while it contains no dietary cholesterol, it will cause your body to produce a lot of cholesterol. It's not that it's a lie per se, but because the public is generally uneducated, I understand how that's unfair. If someone has high cholesterol, they might buy that, but it will have no positive impact on their cholesterol levels because of the saturated fat.

I think those are okay, but just because Nature's Path says their cereal contains health-supportive fiber or something to that effect, they risk being pulled off the shelves? I eat that cereal all the time! I'm thinking this law is a bit too stringent. And honestly I think the responsibility should lie with the consumer, just as it does in other cases. So they are not allowed to claim unsupported good health claims (even if what they say is true but misleading), but they are also not required to warn about essentially proven dangers?

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