Food giants making dishonest health claims, says CSPI

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Bogus health claims that are "commonplace" on dietary
supplements are now also being adopted by the food industry,
according to consumer group CSPI, which has urged an FDA
clamp-down.

The Center for Food Safety in the Public Interest has again focused on high-profile food and beverage firms in its latest accusation: Kraft, General Mills, Dole, Coca-Cola and Sunsweet. These companies, it says, are marketing products using structure/function claims that dishonestly claim to protect immunity, nourish the brain, support a healthy digestive system, or protect cartilage and joints. In a letter sent yesterday to the US regulator - Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the group urged it to issue warning letters to the companies in question. CSPI also requested that the agency produce a letter for the food industry that would clarify the substantiation standard for structure/function claims for foods. Finally, it asked for the establishment of a 'safe harbor' list of permissible structure/function claims for conventional foods. Structure/Function Claims​ Structure/function claims are most common on dietary supplement product, and are used to describe the role of a nutrient or ingredient intended to affect normal structure or functions of the human body. They cannot imply a link between the food and a disease or health condition, but they can characterize the means by which a nutrient maintains the body's functions. In addition, these claims can also be used to describe general well-being from consumption of a nutrient. An example would be: 'Fiber maintains bowel regularity'. Immunity ​ Immunity was one of the main claims under attack on the products highlighted by CSPI. These included Kraft's Crystal Light Immunity Berry Pomegranate drink and its Fruit2O Immunity enhanced Water Beverage. Crystal Light, said CSPI, falsely claims that its vitamins A, C and E will help 'maintain a healthy immune system'. "When companies claim their products will 'maintain a healthy immune system', consumers believe this means those products will help ward off disease. But while vitamins A, C, and E are important for the functioning of just about every system in the human body, there's little evidence to suggest that drinking Crystal Light will have any impact on the average person's immune system,"​ said the group. However, Kraft told NutraIngredients-USA.com that "there's substantial evidence that vitamins A, C and E play an important role in immune function. Current labeling regulations permit companies to communicate the basic benefits of these nutrients to consumers. In fact, we took great care to label this product within the current regulatory framework."​ The firm said its product label indicates that one serving provides at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of vitamins A, C and E, and that in the context of an overall diet, "this beverage should be considered one​ source - but not the only​ source - of these important nutrients." ​The firm also clarified that Fruit2O is no longer a Kraft product, after the company sold the brand almost a year ago. Extra healthy? ​ CSPI also criticized products that are "perfectly healthy in their own right",​ but that carry unrealistic label claims. General Mills' Green Giant Immunity Boost product falls within this category, it said. The product consists of frozen broccoli, carrots, pepper strips, and seasoning. According to CSPI, it is a healthy food but there is no evidence to support the claim that the product 'supports a healthy immune system', or provides an 'immunity boost' as it claims to. General Mills said: "It is well documented that vitamin A and vitamin C play a role in supporting immune function." "In the immunity boost product, Green Giant carefully selected vegetables that deliver 30 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A and 50 percent of the Daily Value of vitamin C per serving. The blend is not fortified with vitamin A or C to reach these levels." "Food labeling rules allow a company to cite the basic benefits of these nutrients, and we labeled this product within that regulatory framework." ​ CSPI also criticizes Dole's Wildly Nutritious Tropical Fruit, which are frozen fruit slices that claim to enhance white blood cell function and protect the body against viruses and bacteria. Brains, guts and joints ​ Other claims that the advocacy group criticized were 'help nourish your brain' (Coca-Cola's Minute Maid Enhanced Juice Blend Omega-3 DHA Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices), 'keep your digestive system healthy' (Sunsweet PlumSmart for Digestive Health Plum Juice Extra with Fiber), and 'protect cartilage and joints' (Minute Maid Enhanced Juice Active 750 mg Glucosamine HCL). A spokesperson for Coca-Cola commented: "There is a wealth of sound science supporting the benefits of Omega-3 DHA, choline and vitamins B12, C and E in helping to support the brain and body, and ample, compelling evidence that glucosamine helps protect healthy cartilage and joints from the stress of normal daily activities. We stand by our claims. All Minute Maid products comply with applicable government regulations."​ To view CSPI's letter to FDA, click here​.

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