Feds Crack Down on Leanwashing, But not Greenwashing
That’s the gist of what the FDA wrote in a February 22 letter to Schwan’s Consumer Brands North America, Inc., makers of Mrs. Smith’s Classic Coconut Custard Pie.
The FDA said the pie’s product packaging claim of “0 g Transfat Per Serving” was OK. However, since the pie contains 17 g of total fat, 9 g of saturated fat, and 65 mg of cholesterol per serving, Mrs. Smith’s should have included a disclosure statement “immediately adjacent to the claim.”
Bravo to the FDA, which sent letters to 17 food companies in February notifying them their product claims are in violation of federal laws for false or misleading claims. Apparently, Nestle’s Drumsticks and Dreyer’s Dibs Bite Sized Ice Cream Snacks aren’t totally fat-free either. Nor are Gorton’s Beer Batter Crispy Battered Fish Fillets, which claim “0 grams TRANS FAT SAME GREAT TASTE!” Maybe they have the same great taste because they contain 19 g total fat, 4.5 g saturated fat, and 680 mg sodium per serving. At least they make no bones about the fish being battered: Beer Batter Crispy Battered Fish Fillets.
Says FDA: “A food that bears a nutrient content claim that contains more than 13 g of total fat, 4 g of saturated fat, or 480 mg of sodium per labeled serving must bear a disclosure statement on the label (immediately adjacent to the claim) referring the consumer to nutrition information for those nutrients, e.g., ‘See nutrition information for fat, saturated fat, and sodium content.’”
I’m a big fan of walnuts, which I’ve seen called a “power food” by healthy eating enthusiasts (mind you, I like pie and ice cream too), so it’s a shame Diamond Food Inc. had to be called out by FDA for “unauthorized health claims” on its Web site and product packaging. Same goes for pomegranate juice, but unfortunately POM Wonderful got an FDA letter too.
On its Web site, Diamond cites the health benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in walnuts (“may help lower cholesterol; protect against heart disease, stroke and some cancers; ease arthritis and other inflammatory diseases; and even fight depression and other mental illnesses”). However, FDA says the nuts “may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.”
Same goes for POM Wonderful, which cites on its Web site “Scientific Studies” showing positive health benefits of its pomegranate juice in the areas of atherosclerosis, blood flow/pressure, prostate cancer, and yes, even erectile function.
The FDA told POM, “when scientific publications are used commercially by the seller of a product to promote the product to consumers, such publications may become evidence of the product’s intended use.” FDA also cited “examples of publications that are used to market your product for disease treatment and prevention on your website and are thus evidence of your product’s intended use as a drug.”
Pies, ice cream and beer-battered fish fillets are one thing, but how can foods like walnuts and pomegranates fall into the same trap of misleading health claims?
Just like we say about “greenwashing,” sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes not, but regardless, the fallout is the same – misleading consumers, which causes real progress in the health and environmental areas to regress. Companies need to be careful not to jump too quickly on the green (or lean) bandwagon. As fellow EnviroMedian Katie Deinhammer blogged about our term “leanwashing” earlier this year, “sometimes a cookie is just a cookie.” And a walnut is just a walnut.
Read the FDA’s “warning letters” to all 17 companies.
Back in the greenwashing arena, the FTC began reviewing whether or not to update its Green Guides for marketers two years ago, and there’s yet to be any verdict there. The guides were introduced in 1992 and were last updated in 1998. Meanwhile, we’re still trying to educate consumers to judge real ad claims for themselves with our Greenwashing Index.