Largest U.S. Cereal Manufacturer Takes a Beating in Court

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Kellogg has had a bad year on the truth-in-advertising front.

First, it took the brunt of the furor over the late and unlamented Smart Choices fiasco, when the program's first logo turned up on Froot Loops of all things and was attacked by the Connecticut attorney general.

Next, the IMMUNITY banner on Cocoa Krispies drew fire from the San Francisco city attorney's office. Both boxes are now collectors' items.

Now, FoodNavigator-USA reports that Kellogg has taken another expensive beating, this time on its health claim for Mini-Wheats.

In 2009, Frosted Mini-Wheat boxes sported this health claim: "Clinically shown to improve children's attentiveness by nearly 20 percent."

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Of course, this cereal can do that, especially when kids eating it are compared to kids who don't eat any breakfast at all—which is what this study did.

But that's not what the adorable television advertisements imply, as shown in exhibits A and B in the summary of the class-action decision.

Last April, Kellogg settled a dispute with the FTC over this claim. The FTC did not argue that the claim was inherently absurd because of the lack of an appropriate control group for the study. Instead, it took the study at face value and charged Kellogg with exaggerating the results because hardly any children—only 11 percent—improved attentiveness by 20 percent or more.

On November 16, Kellogg settled a class-action suit over this claim that will cost the company $2.75 million in order to pay customers between $5 and $15 each in compensation. The company also will give $5.5 million to charities.

Because of city and state attorneys and the FTC, the most egregious health claims are slowly disappearing from cereal boxes. But lawsuits do not constitute policy. What goes on the front of food packages is FDA territory.

FDA: Get to work!


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

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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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