FDA Scolds General Mills Over Cheerios ClaimsMay 14, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
General Mills is in trouble over some health claims it has been making over its popular cereal, Cheerios. The Associated Press (AP) reported that federal regulators are miffed over the cereal giant’s claims that Cheerios can lower cholesterol and treat heart disease, claims, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that are only allowable on FDA-approved medications.
The AP noted that the cereal’s labeling states, "you can lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks." General Mills argued that the claims have been approved for 12 years, said the AP. The San Francisco Gate (SF Gate) pointed out that the problem has to do with how the cereal is marketed on the box with the words "lower cholesterol" larger and separate from "ability to reduce the risk of heart disease."
Meanwhile, late last month, media outlets confirmed that another cereal giant, Kellogg Company, agreed to settle charges with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that it used false advertising to tout its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal. The national television ads falsely boasted benefits children receive after eating a breakfast of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats, saying that children who eat the breakfast cereal experience a 20 percent improvement in attentiveness over children who skipped breakfast, reported the SF Gate in a prior report, citing the FTC.
Apparently, the study Kellogg cited in its ad campaign did see a benefit from eating the cereal, but only in half the children studied and only 11 percent of those children’s attention improved by the so-called 20 percent, said the SF Gate. Market Watch then reported that the proposed settlement bans Kellogg from making these types of claims about Frosted Mini-Wheats and also bans Kellogg from misrepresenting “future test or research results about any morning or snack food products.” Food Product Design said that the FTC claim involved statements by Kellogg that Frosted Mini-Wheats are "clinically shown to improve kids' attentiveness by nearly 20 percent." Not only are the claims false, said Food Product Design, the claims violate federal law.
Under the proposed consent agreement, Kellogg Company is not allowed to make deceptive or misleading cognitive health claims for its breakfast and snack foods, and is also prohibited from “misrepresenting any tests or studies,” said Food Product Design.
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington-based consumer-advocacy group, stated at the time, that it wants Kellogg to stop using synthetic food dyes found in some varieties of Mini-Wheats, said the AP previously, adding that the group said the dyes aggravate some hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children.
These are not the first times a major, trusted, company has been caught making false claims about its products. In January we wrote about how the Coca-Cola Company was being sued over false claims about some of its beverages in its second such scandal over deceptive marketing practices. According to a previous Reuters article, CSPI was suing the soft drink giant in a class action lawsuit that accused it of making false claims about its Vitaminwater drinks. That lawsuit followed an earlier warning by the FDA about its marketing of Diet Coke Plus, said Reuters, in which it claimed that Diet Coke Plus includes vitamins and minerals, which violate U.S. policy against marketing soda and other snack foods as more nutritious, or "fortified."