How Companies Skirt the Health Claim Rules

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Kellogg announced Wednesday that it won't put health claims on at least some of its cereal boxes. According to reports, "Kellogg's FiberPlus Antioxidants Cereals do not make health claims, but rather state the amount of fiber and antioxidants on the front of pack [my emphasis]."

FiberPlus Antioxidant brand is formulated to deliver 35 to 40 percent of a consumer's daily fiber (depending on variety) along with antioxidant vitamins C and E.

Take a look at the packages.

According to FDA regulations, describing the level of antioxidant nutrients present in a food is a nutrient content claim, not a health claim. Even so, such claims are only allowed if the nutrients have an established Reference Daily Intake. Antioxidant vitamins C and E do have RDIs, so this must mean that what Kellogg is doing is okay.

Okay, so labeling the package with antioxidants, fiber, and whole grains does not constitute a health claim. Kellogg is not pretending that these things actually DO anything special for health.

It doesn't have to. By this time, everyone knows that these nutrients are the ones you are supposed to be eating. Does an implied health claim differ from an overt health claim? You have to decide this for yourself.

Do not expect the FDA to help. As I discussed a couple of days ago, these kinds of things cannot be an FDA priority—unless Congress decides they should be.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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