US food makers “co-operating” with FDA over labels

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 5th March 2010

Nestle and Diamond Foods have insisted they are “co-operating” with the US Food and Drug Administration after the regulator publicly attacked them – and 13 other food makers – over their use of “misleading” health claims.The FDA revealed yesterday (3 March) that it had sent 16 warning letters to various food manufacturers, insisting they address concerns that labelling rules are being breached by unsubstantiated health claims.

Violations ranged from claims that products could be used to “treat” or “mitigate” diseases to claims that foods are “trans-fat free” when they remain high in saturated fats.

In an open letter to the food industry, FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg said that the food watchdog had informed the manufacturers that “their labels are in violation of the law” and “subject to legal proceedings to remove misbranded products from the marketplace”.

The companies are required to address these concerns within 15 days, or face having their products pulled from the shelves, the FDA said.

Responding to FDA criticism of health claims made on its walnut products, snack maker Diamond Foods claimed it had already been in contact with the agency and would give the regulator a full response within 15 working days.

“The FDA has not required that our existing products be removed, and we expect to be able to make any changes required to our packaging and website expeditiously and with minimal expense,” the company said. “We look forward to working with the agency.”

Meanwhile, Nestle, which saw itself and two of its divisions criticised by the FDA, also insisted that it is co-operating with the regulator. “Nestlé intends to fully co-operate with the FDA to bring this matter to a conclusion,” a spokesperson said.

The FDA had criticised Nestle’s labelling of its Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream its Juicy Juice products and lines made by baby-food unit Gerber Products Co.

Nestle declined to comment further on “pending regulatory inquiries” but the company did highlight the “nutritional quality” of Nestle’s Dreyer’s ice creams.

“Nestlé Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream has a long-standing tradition of manufacturing high-quality wholesome products that are widely used by consumers, and we stand behind their nutritional quality,” a spokesperson insisted.

Other food manufacturers who have received warnings from the FDA include Pom, which allegedly made health claims only authorised for use in relation to adults on products designed for children under the age of two.

The FDA also said Schwan’s Consumer Brands had made a “trans-fat free” claim on its Mrs. Smith’s Classic Coconut Custard Pie, a product considered by the regulator to be “high” in saturated fat.

Consumer lobby group the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has repeatedly called on the FDA to enforce tougher labelling standards, welcomed the agency’s “crackdown” but insisted that further action was required.

“The warning letters sent by FDA today are a welcome step. But unless the FDA uses its authority to issue new, industry-wide regulations to prevent such abuses, the agency will forever be playing a game of Whac-A-Mole with companies that use deceptive labelling,” the CSPI said.

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