Aunt Jemima to Correct Labels for "Blueberry" Waffles
CSPI Was on the Verge of Suing Manufacturer, Pinnacle Foods
Sleepy regulators at the Food and Drug Administration have known for years that the “blueberries” in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are fake, despite the bounty of plump berries bursting forth on the product labels. But it took the threat of a lawsuit from the nonprofit food-safety and nutrition watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), to actually get Aunt Jemima’s attention.
In a settlement struck between CSPI and Aunt Jemima’s corporate parent, Pinnacle Foods, the company promises to more clearly indicate that the product is artificially flavored and that the “blueberries” in question are imitation. In return, CSPI won’t haul Aunt Jemima before a judge.
“We thank Pinnacle Foods for speedily agreeing to these sensible label improvements, and we appreciate their willingness to work collaboratively,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “In fact to be fair, Pinnacle Foods only recently acquired Aunt Jemima, so they’re righting a wrong that didn’t originate with them.”
Only very careful label readers would notice, tucked into the middle of a long list of ingredients, the “artificially flavored blueberry bits.” These “bits” are made from sugar, dextrose, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, soy protein concentrate, artificial flavor, salt, citric acid, cellulose gum, blue 2 lake, red 40 lake, and malic acid. Those ingredients are likely to remain the same, but the front label will state clearly “with imitation blueberries.” Also, the words “artificially flavored” will be printed more clearly on the label.
“Still, no actual blueberries are harmed in making Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles,” Gardner said.
In the past year, CSPI has more aggressively policed deceptive labeling claims on its own, by turning to litigation, partly since it says the FDA does a poor job in this area. In recent weeks, CSPI has reached settlements with Quaker Foods and Tropicana over deceptively labeled products and is currently suing Quorn Foods, which makes meat substitute made from processed fungus. CSPI has received, and forwarded to the FDA, complaints from more than 900 consumers who experienced nausea, severe vomiting, diarrhea, or anaphylaxis after eating Quorn products. CSPI is also suing the Whole Foods supermarket chain, which sells the products without warnings despite knowing that the products cause illnesses. Those suits are pending in Texas state courts.
“The FDA could certainly use more staff to be on the lookout for deceptive labeling or unhealthful additives,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “But frankly, even when you hand them the most egregious examples on a silver platter they tend to take years to act, if they act at all.”