Finally! The FDA Goes After Misleading Health Labels

Big news in nutrition labeling!

The FDA has sent  a WARNING LETTER to 17 food manufacturers notifying them that 22 of their food products violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. From yesterday’s FDA press release:

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.

Some prominent examples (see all here):

POM Wonderful – The product makes claims that it will treat, prevent, or cure diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer. These types of claims are not allowed on food products.

Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Orange Tangerine and Juicy Juice All-Natural 100% Juice Grape – The product labels imply that the products are 100% juice when they are actuallyjuice blends with added flavors.

Nature’s Path Organic Flax Plus Multibran Cereal – The product label includes the nutrient claim, “excellent source of Omega-3+,” which has not been approved for use on food products.

The warning letters follow an October 2009 statement by Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg, M.D., encouraging companies to review their labeling to ensure that they were in compliance with FDA regulations, and were truthful and not misleading. Kudos to Dr. Hamburg, who, unlike her predecessors, is unafraid to take on the food industry, just as a strong regulatory body should.

Here’s why these letters are a monumental turning point:

  1. They indicate that food labeling truly is a high priority for the FDA
  2. They show, by example, that there is no wiggle room for creative health claims (ie – health claims are not supposed to be marketing claims)
  3. They warn the entire industry that companies not in compliance need to shape up or else…
  4. Going forward, the FDA will be much more proactive in determining the best way to provide front-of-pack nutrition information to consumers.

While some detractors may pull out their “nanny-state” claims, it is our position that the free markets have failed the US consumer, who is today fatter and sicker as a result of too much bad food peddled by manufacturers. A strong regulatory body stands not to interfere with competition, but to make sure the rules of the game are being observed and that profits are not at the expense of public health.

What to do at the supermarket:

While all this is great news, your local supermarket is still choc full of misleading products and health claims. Our suggestion is to invest the time in reading the nutrition fact labels and ingredient lists, skipping the front of pack claims altogether.

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  • Heidi

    I was in the baby aisle buying some sippy cups for my 11 month old son when my boyfriend shows me this baby snack bar thing. I saw “excellent source of multi-grain” as soon as i read the ingredients and the first word was “enriched” i told him “NO!” i really hate what they have done to labeling to trick consumers who do not actually read food labels.