CSPI Threatens Three Big Food Cos. With Lawsuits

by , Jan 10, 2014, 5:12 PM
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Nonprofit nutrition watchdog the Center for Science in the Public Interest has notified three big food makers that it will file lawsuits if the companies refuse to change product claims that CPSI alleges are unauthorized and illegal.

CSPI notified Kraft Foods that it will sue Kraft if it continues to use the word “natural” in connection with its Crystal Light Natural Lemonade, Natural Pink Lemonade, Natural Lemon Iced Tea and Natural Lemon Decaffeinated Iced Tea.  

CSPI asserts that Kraft is misleading consumers by using "natural" in its marketing of Crystal Light products that contain artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame-potassium; artificial colors such as Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1; the factory-produced texturizer maltodextrin; and the synthetic preservative butylated hydroxyanisole, or BHA.  

CSPI’s second pre-litigation notice was sent to Smart Balance. CSPI maintains that the company's claims that Smart Balance Blended Butter Sticks' plant sterol esters help block cholesterol in the butter constitute an illegal disease-prevention claim, as well as an illegal health claim.  

CSPI asserts that the sticks are being marketed as preventing or treating a disease  (hypercholesterolemia) and so should, under federal law, be considered unapproved new drugs. While there is an FDA-approved health claim for some foods that do have plant sterol esters, Smart Balance’s Blended Butter Sticks do not contain enough of those sterols or certain beneficial nutrients -- and have too much unhealthful saturated fat -- to qualify, CSPI charges.

CSPI also alerted Abbott Laboratories that it will sue if Abbott continues to make what CSPI alleges are deceptive and illegal claims in connection with its Ensure Complete Nutrition Shake and Ensure Muscle Health Shake.  

CSPI states that the Ensure products -- originally developed as a sole-source nutrition or meal-replacement product to be used under medical supervision, comprised mostly of water, sugar and corn maltodextrin -- are now being marketed to the general public as a twice-daily “habit that could help you feel better” and as “part of a healthy diet.” It also points out that one serving of Ensure Complete has 350 calories, and a serving of Ensure Muscle has 250 calories

CSPI asserts that while these shakes "might be appropriate in the context of a seriously ill patient unable to maintain a healthy weight," Abbott's marketing suggestions that healthy people consume two bottles per day would result in those users consuming more sugar than is recommended by the American Heart Association.

“The last thing most Americans need is to shoehorn an additional 500 to 700 liquid calories into their diets,” contends CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “These shakes are more likely to promote obesity, diabetes and other health problems than they are to promote healthy muscles, hearts, bones and so on.” 

CSPI also charges that Abbott is misleading consumers about the omega-3 content in Ensure products, in part with a video that compared a bottle of Ensure to a salmon steak.

"While salmon does have the heart-healthy omega-3s DHA and EPA, Ensure has the plant-derived ALA, whose benefit is less clear," CSPI stated in its pre-lawsuit notification. "Ensure’s claims to support heart health and immune function, or its claim that it can 'rebuild muscle strength' or 'protect, preserve and promote muscle health,' are all impermissible or illegal claims."

By threatening or actually filing suits, CSPI has won agreements in the past with major CPG food companies, QSRs and dietary supplements marketers. 

Those included a 2007 agreement with Kellogg setting nutrition standards for the foods it markets to kids; a 2008 agreement with Airborne providing refunds to consumers who bought the product (which at the time, CSPI alleged was deceptively labeled); and a 2012 agreement with Pfizer improving the labeling of its Centrum multivitamins.

According to CSPI, its lawsuits also prompted KFC and Burger King to accelerate the pace with which they removed artificial trans fat from their fried foods, and spurred General Mills to improve labeling for Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups, among other "improvements to products’ labeling, marketing, and formulation."

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