What's New -- CSPI Press Releases

Friday, February 23, 1996

Contact: Roger Williams 202/332-9110 x 370

Gerber Escalates "Campaign of Lies" with

Full-Page Deceptive Newspaper Ads

Gerber Products Company began running full-page ads today in newspapers across the country to counter a consumer group's recent criticisms of Gerber's adulterated baby foods and deceptive advertising practices.

"Gerber's ad is a shameful restatement of many of the company's past deceptive claims," charged consumer advocate Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

"Their ad is headlined 'Gerber sets the record straight on nutrition,' yet the company is spending millions of dollars to maintain the phony premise that added sugar and cheap fillers don't reduce nutritional value. Gerber would better serve its customers by taking this ad budget and using it to put more real food in its products."

On February 14, CSPI filed a massive petition with the Federal Trade Commission charging that Gerber has engaged in deceptive advertising since at least 1950. CSPI cited numerous deceptive claims in more than a dozen recent Gerber ads and promotional materials, as well as in 16 ads from 1950-90. The petition asks the FTC to halt Gerber's misleading ads; to penalize the company financially; and to require them to run remedial advertising. CSPI is amending its FTC complaint to include today's ads.

In today's ads, Gerber claims:

It adds tapioca and sugar to foods to add flavor and texture "without compromising the nutritional value." In fact, Gerber uses sugar, modified starch, and water to replace as much as half the content of fruit, vegetable, and other nutritious ingredients. Those Gerber products contain much lower levels of vitamins, minerals, protein, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals than unadulterated products made by Beech-Nut and other baby-food companies.

Gerber's best-selling baby food, Bananas with Tapioca, contains 40 percent less banana than Beech-Nut's Bananas. (Incidently, the "tapioca" Gerber uses is not ordinary tapioca starch, but starch that has been chemically modified by reaction with such chemicals as acetic anhydride, propylene oxide, epichlorohydrin, sodium trimetaphosphate, and adipic-acetic mixed anhydride.)

"In fact, 4 out of 5 pediatricians who recommend baby food recommend Gerber." Actually, according to the survey that Gerber relies upon, 4 out of 5 pediatricians did not recommend any brand of commercial baby food. Only 16 percent of the pediatricians recommended Gerber. While technically true, this claim is inherently deceptive.

"Making sure America's babies get the nutrition they need is our number one priority." If that were true, Gerber wouldn't make dozens of products with added modified starch, sugar, and water, including many dessert products that are the first junk foods that many babies eat.

Gerber's number-one priority is making money: CSPI estimates that Gerber makes an additional $2.3 million per year in windfall profits on its banana products alone by diluting them with less-expensive fillers.

"In some recipes, we add a small amount of sugar." That "small amount" can be as much as four and a half teaspoons in a six-ounce jar of baby-food "dessert."

Gerber's new ads will reportedly run in about twenty newspapers around the country, according to a company representative, including USA Today, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Boston Globe. The company is reportedly also considering television advertising.

Jacobson said: "Gerber seems to be fighting to the death to defend the production of adulterated foods. For decades, this company has cheated babies out of nutrients and cheated parents out of money. It has reaped tens of millions of dollars in windfall profits by selling parents modified starch, water, and sugar in place of real food.

"Gerber ought to cease and desist this disgraceful corporate conduct, not defend it.

"Parents should send Gerber a strong vote of no confidence by buying more wholesome products made by several of its competitors, including Beech-Nut, Earth's Best, and Growing Healthy."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization specializing in food and nutrition issues. CSPI is well-known for obtaining nutrition labeling on all packaged foods and for studying the nutritional quality of restaurant foods. The Center accepts no government or corporate funding; it is funded largely by the 900,000 subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter.

Journalists may obtain more background on the baby-food issue, including a summary of CSPI's FTC petition, by calling Art Silverman at 202-332-9110, ext.370.

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