Cholesterol-battling plant stanol-based Benecol has been busted in the UK for exaggerating TV advert claims even though they were based on UK National Health Service (NHS), British Heart Foundation (BHF) and World Health Organization (WHO) data.
A veteran healthy foods consultant called the ruling “stupid” and advised Raiso-owned Benecol’s UK license holder, Johnson & Johnson, to sue the UK agency in question.
The ads for Benecol drinking yoghurt claimed, "two out of three adults have high cholesterol" in the UK, but the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the claim manipulated BHF and other data and, “therefore exaggerated the health benefit of the product.”
Despite being approved by the broadcast approver, Clearcast, the ASA also ruled the ad had inappropriately used an EU-approved cholesterol reducing claim by stating Benecol was, “proven to lower cholesterol by up to 10% in just three weeks."
“This attack on a European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)-approved claim has to be one of the most stupid regulatory rulings that I have seen,” opined industry consultant, editor and analyst Julian Mellentin.
“The ASA panel who arrived at this decision must be composed of people with zero understanding of the regulation and the science. They should be called to account.”
The ASA said the Benecol ad had not been clear enough about what cholesterol levels of 5 mmol/l meant, even if WHO figures showed two thirds of people had raised cholesterol based on this measure. BHF data was similar.
In casting the ad as “misleading” and “exaggerated”, the ASA said some of the data was based on LDL cholesterol and not total cholesterol, and that some dated from five or more years ago.
Further, “While we acknowledged that the NHS Choices article submitted stated that total cholesterol of less than 5 mmol/l was advised for healthy adults, we noted that it did not state that all levels of over 5 mmol/l were considered to be ‘high’, rather than, for example, being considered raised or of moderate risk.”
“In addition, we were concerned that the BHF 2007 report gave blood cholesterol levels for England but that it did not include a UK figure.”
For the claim itself the ASA noted the European Commission backed claim wording flexibility but in this case was, “concerned that although the ad stated ‘LOWER CHOLESTEROL UP TO 10% in 3 weeks’, and ‘PROVEN TO LOWER CHOLESTEROL’, it did not include the required information about high cholesterol being a risk factor in the development of CHD [coronary heart disease].”
“We therefore considered the meaning of the authorised disease risk reduction claim was significantly altered.”
It said the supplementary information was not prominent enough in the ad compared to other information and concluded, “The ad must not be broadcast again in its current form.”
But this logic failed to impress Mellentin.
“The regulator is once again ignoring the fact that a company is using a legally permitted claim, that the wording falls very clearly within the boundaries of what is permitted by the regulation and that the product and the claim have been supported by eminent independent bodies such as the British Heart Foundation and several others.”
“It's time that companies resisted this type of ignorance and regulatory arrogance. If Benecol was my company I'd take the ASA to court where they would be subjected to a humiliation that they richly deserve.”
Benecol cholesterol-lowering claims were approved in many countries before the 2009 EU nutrition and health claim regulation (NHCR) approvals that also included related plant sterol compounds.
That stated: “The Panel concludes that for an intake of 1.5 - 2.4 g/d an average reduction of between 7 and 10.5 % can be expected.”
A summary of those claims can be found here .