FDA should take steps to challenge bogus immunity claims

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US Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urges FDA to crack down on food frauds saying that Kraft, General Mills, Dole, & others ripping off consumers with bogus immunity claims.

Kraft’s Crystal Light Immunity Berry Pomegranate drink falsely claims that its vitamins A, C, and E will help “maintain a healthy immune system,” charges the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

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.

Another Kraft product, Fruit2O Immunity Nutrient Enhanced Water Beverage, also bears a bogus “help maintain a healthy immune system” claim. (Its Berry Pomegranate flavor is just as bereft of berries and pomegranates as Crystal Light as well.)

“Food manufacturers know that they can get away with this kind of consumer deception because the Bush FDA is letting the industry play by many of the same loosely-goosey rules followed by dietary supplement manufacturers,” says CSPI legal affairs director Bruce Silverglade. “The result is that the deception that is commonplace on dietary supplement labels has now spread to the much larger food industry.”

Even some foods that are perfectly healthy in their own right-bags of frozen fruit or vegetables-bear silly label claims touting magical immunity-boosting properties. For instance, Green Giant Immunity Boost, a General Mills product, consists of frozen broccoli, carrots, pepper strips, and seasoning. While it’s a perfectly healthful food, there is no evidence to support the claim that the product “supports a healthy immune system,” or provides the promised “immunity boost.” In an informal survey of 1,000 health-oriented consumers conducted by CSPI, 49 percent thought this product would help prevent colds and the flu.

Dole’s Wildly Nutritious Tropical Fruit-frozen sliced pineapple, mango, kiwi fruit, papaya, and strawberries-is another decent food. But the marketing copy on the label makes it sound like nothing short of a medical miracle, whose vitamins variously maintain, support, or even enhance “white blood cell function” and the cells lining the “airway, urinary, and digestive tracts,” and can “protect the body against viruses and bacteria.”

“Sometimes a pineapple is just a pineapple,” said CSPI senior nutritionist David Schardt. “Consumers should eat their fruits and vegetables, by all means. But save your money by watching out for weasel words like ?support,’ ?maintain,’ or ?enhance,’ which often imply that a specific brand name food can prevent disease.”

Express disease prevention claims on food labels must be approved by the FDA prior to marketing. But food companies do not need the FDA’s permission to claim that various nutrients allegedly play in the normal structure or functioning of the body. Thus, while the makers of Welch’s Fiber 100% Grape Juice may not claim that that product-with its added fiber-relieves irritable bowel syndrome, they can state that it “support[s] a healthy digestive system.” But in this case, the fiber comes from maltodextrin, not fruit, and there’s no evidence that the amount of maltodextrin in the grape juice has any effect on digestion.

In a formal complaint filed with the US FDA, CSPI says the agency should stop the bogus claims and set new rules for food companies requiring them to base future claims on solid scientific evidence and make only FDA-approved claims.

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest, USA

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