April 25, 1996

CONTACT: Bruce Silverglade (202) 332-9110 x337 or

Leila Farzan (202) 332-9110 x351

FTC Asked to Halt Deceptive Health Claims by Leading Food Companies

Quaker, Pillsbury, Ralston, Procter & Gamble Ads Cited

on Second Anniversary of FTC Enforcement Policy

Health and nutrition claims in ads for six major food products, including Quaker Oatmeal, Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits, Ralston Cookie-Crisp cereal and Holsum bread, mislead consumers according to formal complaints filed today with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) charged that the ads make a range of misleading health and nutrition claims:

The six complaints, totaling more than 50 pages, asked the FTC to promptly halt the ads and require the companies to pay a penalty to the U.S. Treasury. In addition, the Procter and Gamble complaint asks the FTC to require that all ads for olestra and olestra containing products bear a health notice required by the Food and Drug Administration on labels.

"Two years ago, the FTC announced a new enforcement policy to stop misleading food ads. Unfortunately, many problems still exist," stated Bruce Silverglade, CSPI director of legal affairs.

"Food companies are delivering far less beneficial products than their ads promise. Taken together, these and other deceptive food ads represent a serious public health problem," stated CSPI staff attorney Leila Farzan.

Health and nutrition claims on food labels are strictly controlled by the Food and Drug Administration. The FTC, in contrast, has never issued specific regulations to control such claims. Congress considered legislation in 1992 that would have expanded FTC authority over food ads, but withdrew consideration of the bill when the FTC announced a new enforcement policy in May 1994 and promised to tighten its control of misleading claims. While the FTC has taken several actions against deceptive food ads since that time, many problems still persist.

"The FTC is doomed to playing catch-up as long as it chooses to go after deceptive ads on a case-by-case, after-the-fact basis. The only way to prevent this persistent flow of deceptive ads by companies big and little is for the FTC to issue clear rules specifying just what claims are, and are not, acceptable," Silverglade stated.

CSPI has monitored misleading food advertising claims for more than 15 years. The FTC, state attorneys general, and the Council of Better Business Bureaus have stopped more than a dozen national advertising campaigns by Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup, Coca Cola, Del Monte, Kellogg Co. and other leading advertisers after CSPI alleged that the ads made misleading claims.

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CSPI, a nonprofit consumer organization, is supported largely by 750,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. CSPI was founded in 1971 and is located in Washington, D.C.