FDA Sends Warning Letters to 17 Food Makers

FDA Clamp down


The Food and Drug Administration has posted on its Web site warning letters it has sent to 17 food companies about labeling, false/ misleading claims and other regulations violations related to some of their products.

At the same time, FDA Commissioner of food and drugs Margaret A. Hamburg issued an open letter to the food industry. The letter confirms that key FDA initiatives in the works include devising a clear, consistent front-of-pack labeling system and formulating nutritional criteria for foods that make "dietary guidance" statements (such as "Eat two cups of fruit a day for good health").

Hamburg also stated that the group of warnings recently issued to food makers reflects the FDA's concern that not all food products labeling is in accordance with the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (which prohibits false or misleading claims and restricts nutrient content claims to those defined by FDA regulations) and the goals of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.



Fifteen of the warning letters were issued on Feb. 22; the other two on Feb. 23 and Dec. 4.

Many of those warned are large companies (or divisions) with high-profile brands. The list includes Nestlé USA and Nestlé subsidiary Dreyer's Ice Cream Inc., Hero Group subsidiary Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp., Gerber Products Co., Diamond Foods Inc., Gorton's, Inc., Schwan's Consumer Brands North America, Sunsweet Growers Inc., Ken's Foods, Inc. and Pom Wonderful, as well as Spectrum Organic Products, Inc., PBM Products, LLC, Redco Foods, Inc., First Juice, Fleminger Inc., Pompeian, Inc. and Guangzhou Yong Want Foods Ltd.

The violations cited in the warnings fall under several categories of false or misleading labeling/claims. As summed up in Hamburg's letter, these include: nutrient content claims authorized for use on adult products but being unlawfully applied to products for children under the age of two; zero trans fat claims that are misleading because the product is high in saturated fat; products claiming to treat or mitigate diseases and so classified as drugs, that are failing to meet regulatory safety and other requirements for drugs; misleading "healthy" claims on foods that do not meet the established definition for use of that term; and juice products "misleading consumers into believing that they consist entirely of a single juice."

The consumer watchdog group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) lauded the issuing of the numerous warning letters, terming it "the largest crackdown on deceptive food labeling in more than a decade."

However, during a press conference call, CSPI executives also reemphasized the organization's call for the FDA to formulate new regulations that would address various issues on an industry-wide (rather than case-by-case) basis, and "level the playing field" for all food makers, as well as protect consumers.

In addition to the FDA's work on revamping front-of-pack labeling and nutrition guidelines, CSPI advocates new regulations specifically covering areas such as zero trans fat claims, "structure/function" claims (such as immunity system-boosting claims), and "made with whole grains" claims.

CSPI's full roster of recommendations in various areas are summarized in its "Food Labeling Chaos: The Case for Reform" report (available on its Web site). The final version of that report was sent recently to FDA commissioner Hamburg.

In response to Hamburg's letter to the industry, the Grocery Manufacturers Association issued a statement stressing the food and beverage industry's commitment to "providing consumers with the products and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle," confirming the industry's support of regulations requiring truthful food labeling, and reiterating food companies' cooperation with the FDA in work aimed at "clearly and consistently" conveying nutrition information to consumers.

At filing time, at least one of the food makers that received a warning had addressed this publicly. Diamond Foods posted a statement on its Web site noting that it is already begun responding to the FDA regarding its notification that a Diamond walnuts product is making health claims beyond those authorized by the FDA. Diamond pointed out that the FDA has not required that existing products be removed, and said the company expects to be able "to make any changes required to our packaging and Web site expeditiously and with minimal expense."

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