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
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
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) charged that the ads make a range of
misleading health and nutrition claims:
- A Quaker Oatmeal commercial implies that eating typical portions of oatmeal on an ordinary
basis can reduce the risk of heart disease. In fact, a consumer would have to eat three servings
of instant oatmeal a day for many years in order to achieve any health benefit from eating
- A Ralston Cookie-Crisp cereal ad implies that the product has significantly less sugar than competing brands. In fact, Cookie-Crisp cereal has only one-fourth to one-half of a teaspoon
(1-2 grams) less sugar than the other cereals listed in the advertisement.
- An ad for Pillsbury Grands! Buttermilk Biscuits describes the product as "light" even though
the biscuits have not been reduced in fat, calories or sodium.
- Procter and Gamble ads imply that the company's new olestra fat substitute is safe and
nutritious. In fact, the additive, according to the Food and Drug Administration, depletes
nutrients and causes gastrointestinal problems including abdominal cramping and loose stools.
- A Salmon Marketers International radio ad claims that eating one serving of salmon per week
can reduce the risk of heart attack by up to 70%. The Food and Drug Administration has
found that such claims are not scientifically valid.
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.
- A Holsum bread ad exaggerates the nutritional quality of ordinary enriched white bread by
making misleading nutritional comparisons.
"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
"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.