The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is calling on food companies to correct food labeling violations, including unauthorized health
and nutrient claims: the federal agency has sent individual warning letters to manufacturers and also written an open letter to the industry.
The FDA announced their measure on Wednesday, indicating they had notified several manufacturers that their products carried labels that violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, and that Dr Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of Food and Drugs, had written an open letter to Industry, underscoring "the importance of providing nutrition information that consumers could rely on".
The action follows a statement by Hamburg issued in October 2009, where she encouraged companies to review their labeling so it was in line with FDA regulations, were truthful and not misleading.
The agency sent warning letters to 17 food manufacturers about violations in 22 of their products. The violations cited in the letters include:
- Unauthorized health claims,
- Unauthorized nutrient content claims, and
- Unauthorized use of terms such as "healthy", and others that are strictly defined in the regulations.
The FDA said the product labels are misleading in that the display panel shows "Grape" or "Orange Tangerine" in large black letters, and near this text is the statement "All Natural-100% Juice", which implies they are 100% grape and orange/tangerine juice respectively, which is misleading to consumers because this is not true.
In fact, at the bottom of the display panel, away from the misleading information, in a "smaller font and white print on a colored background" the FDA letter informs there is another (more accurate) statement describing the product as a "flavored juice blend from concentrate with other natural flavors & added ingredients".
The FDA letter warns Nestle that:
"The manner in which the latter statement is presented makes it less conspicuous and prominent than the other label statements and vignettes and therefore less likely to be read or understood by consumers at the time of purchase."
The FDA letters include violations that occur not only on product labels but other places like product websites.
For example, in their letter to the General Manager of Redco Foods, Inc, the agency itemises a number of website violations, including that the company is in effect promoting its "Salada Naturally Decaffeinated Green Tea" as an unapproved new drug, because the promotional material contains articles that say things like green tea can "inhibit the cancer process at virtually every stage, regulate cholesterol levels ... and ward off viruses, fungi and food-borne bacteria".
"The therapeutic claims on your website establish that your green tea products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease," wrote the FDA, stating that the cited green tea products are not "generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses" and are therefore in effect "new drugs" under the legislation and must undergo evidence-based scientific testing to gain FDA approval.
The individually notified companies have 15 business days in which to inform the FDA what steps they are going to take to correct the offending labels.
In her open letter to Industry, Hamburg wrote that she hoped the warning would clarify the FDA's expectations from food manufacturers and stressed that:
"Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States."
The FDA is on a mission to improve nutrition labeling. In a press statement they said this latest move is one step toward helping consumers make informed choices about buying food. The agency said they will soon be proposing guidance on calorie and nutrient labeling on the front of food packages.
Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD