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Thursday, March 04, 2010

The FDA and Misleading Labels

I eventually plan on writing a long series of FDA-related posts, but for now I will settle with this news article about how the FDA has sent official warnings to 17 different food companies about misleading claims on the labels of their products, including threats to take further action (including product seizure) if they don't correct the labels.

While it's a nice idea to try and "protect the public" from misleading labels, in most cases the public should be able to defend themselves and the corrections can be just as misleading thanks to the FDA's twisted logic.

Of course, this is the governmental organization that thinks the serving size of Fig Newtons is "2 cookies", ice cream is eaten by the "1/2 cup" and a normal person will eat HALF of a ramen packet for a meal and save the other half for later.

I'm partially torn on the issue. On the one hand, people are generally idiots and usually (1) don't care about the nutrition info and just want to buy tasty food, (2) are easily swayed by the label when choosing a product and don't bother with real nutritional info or (3) bother to check the nutritional info but "abuse" the servings and overeat.

Those in Group 2 are the people who the FDA is trying to "protect" with this crackdown on misleading labels by citing their guidelines and the company's failure to adhere to them by improperly using certain words on the label.

Now while I both loathe the coddling of those who deserve what their idiocy brings them as well as the government forcing their rules on the free market and making it less free - I do agree that false advertising is just plain wrong and I applaud the FDA for cracking down on falseties in the advertising on the labels of these food products.

On that other hand, though - the FDA has some pretty frickin' insane rules. Insane that they made the rule in the first place, insane that the rules have so many stipulations, and insane that the stipulations in and of themselves sometimes make the rule pointless.

Just to give you an idea, one of the companies that was targeted for mislabeling was Ken's Foods, Inc. for their salad dressing line called "Ken's Healthy Options™". The crime? The content claim of "healthy". Here's what the FDA requires in order for a company to put the word "healthy" on their product label:

To bear the nutrient content claim "healthy," a food such as a salad dressing: (1) must be "low fat" as defined in 21 CFR 101.62(b)(2) (total fat content of 3 g or less per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) and per 50 g of food); (2) must be "low saturated fat" is defined in 21 CFR 101.62(c)(2) (saturated fat content of 1 g or less per RACC and no more than 15 percent of calories from saturated fat); (3) must not exceed the disclosure level for cholesterol set forth in 21 CFR 101.13(h) (60 mg cholesterol per 50 g of food); (4) must contain no more than 480 mg sodium per 50 g of food (21 CFR 101.65(d)(2)(ii)(B)); and (5) must contain at least 10 % of the Daily Value per RACC of one or more of the following nutrients: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein, and fiber (21 CFR 101.65(d)(2)(i)).

Ken's "healthy" salad dressing options apparently exceed the 3 g of fat per 50 g of food maximum in the "low fat" definition and do not not contain 10% of the Daily Value of at least one of thosee nutrients. And that's the definition of "healthy"!

Another letter recipient was Spectrum Organic Products, Inc. for their product called "Organic All Vegetable Shortening". Sadly, the violation was not regarding the "organic" label (which is a hilarious can of worms to open) but the fact that the label says it is "cholesterol free".

The term "cholesterol free" may be used on the label or in the labeling of a food with a Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) of two (2) tablespoons or less that contains more than 13 g of total fat per 50 g only if the following criteria, set forth in 21 CFR 101.62(d)(1)(ii), are met: (1) the food contains less than 2 mg of cholesterol per RACC and per labeled serving; (2) the food contains no ingredient that is generally understood by consumers to contain cholesterol; (3) the food contains 2 g or less of saturated fatty acids per RACC; and (4) the label or labeling discloses the level of total fat in a serving (as declared on the label) of the food.

The shortening exceeds the maximum 13g of fat per 50g of product and also exceeds the maximum 2g of saturated fatty acids per RACC. But did you notice that a product is cool with the FDA to say they are "cholesterol free" even if it contains 1.9mg of cholesterol per RACC? That's the FDA for you!

In the "totally deserves it" category for the FDA calling out a company's falsehoods - POM Wonderful got a very long letter basically chastizing them for claims made on their website (included on the label).

"The therapeutic claims on your website establish that the product is a drug because it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The marketing of this product with these claims violates [the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act]."

Even worse is the fact that in additional to blurring the line between food and drug, the product fails to meet EITHER label, as the letter itemizes how POM Wonderful is misbranded as a food (claiming a high level of a nutrient that doesn't even have a Recommended Daily Intake) AND misbranded as a drug (saying they treat diseases means they are a drug but they don't provide adequate directions for use).

I could go on. These are just 3 of the 17 company letters that were sent out, including one to Gorton's, Inc. for their Gorton's Fish Fillets and to Dreyer's Ice Cream Inc. for some products of theirs for advertising "0 grams trans fat" but not also notifying the consumer to "See nutrition information for fat and saturated fat content". Which apparently is part of the FDA's rule about saying your product contains no trans fat...?

So back to my original point - I'm not sure whether to applaud or boo at the FDA for these letters. Sure, according to the Federal Law, their products were in violation due to improper labels. But what does any of it mean? The Pompeian, Inc. company got hit because of the usage of the word "light" on their bottles of "Pompeian Imported Extra Light Olive Oil" - but Frank Patton, the company's president, said the label should have said "Extra Light Tasting Olive Oil" and that it was a printing error, which he intends to correct when the next labels are printed.

So the FDA only cares about a product using the term "light" as long as it's not followed by the word "tasting"? How does that protect consumer Debbie Dumbass who sees the word "light" and couldn't give a damn what the rest of the label says? Am I allowed to market a line of ice creams that say "Fat-Free Tasting Ice Cream" and rake in the money from people who see the words "fat free" and couldn't be bothered to do the legwork and investigate the nutritional info to see that I use extra lard for that "perfect fat free taste"?

What the hell does "Extra Light" taste like, anyway? It's OLIVE OIL! Are there seriously taste testers guzzling shots of olive oil and checking off the "tastes like 'extra light'" box instead of the "tastes like 'light'" or "tastes like my arteries are clogging" boxes?

(Note to self: "Uncle Aaron's Artery-Cloggin' Tasting Olive Oil" will likely not sell well in today's marketplace.)

In the end, I think I'm still on the fence. I like to think that the free market should decide what is or isn't appropriate marketing for products and that the government should butt out. But I'm also sick and tired of Debbie Dumbass suing large corporations because a nightly cup of their "Extra Light" olive oil still made her fat despite claims of being "Extra Light". In these cases, I'm glad that the FDA can nip these in the bud by having companies adhere to these nonsense laws.

So if I had to choose, I'd be forced to tip my hat to the FDA. Their laws may be nonsensical and outdated, but at least they're helping to curb the frivolous dumbass lawsuit population.

What do you think? Do you approve or disapprove of the FDA and these letters? Leave a comment and let me know!

And then Digg this article!

1 comment:

POM Wonderful said...

POM supports its scientific research and advocates honest labeling. We look forward to working with the FDA to resolve this matter. http://www.bit.ly/pomfda