Food Labels and Phantom Fruits

Pear in Mind: A Blog in the Public Interest

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Last week, The Washington Post reported on a class action lawsuit against Kellogg accusing the company of misleading consumers with its labeling of Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts, which the lawsuit alleges do not contain enough strawberry to provide the nutrient benefits of strawberries.

I’m here to say that Strawberry Pop-Tarts are just the tip of the iceberg. Supermarket shelves are full of products making misleading claims about fruit and vegetable content.

Certain veggie straws are marketed with images of whole tomatoes and fresh leaves of spinach, but  contain more potato starch and oil than tomato paste or spinach powder. Some “blueberry” bagels contain “blueberry flavored bits” made with more sugar than actual blueberries. Fruit drinks like Sunny D woo parents with pictures of fresh citrus, while the small print confesses they only contain 5% juice (the rest is primarily water and added sugar).

Claims on fruit drinks can be particularly misleading. A recent study found that less than a quarter of these drinks list juice as the first or second ingredient, but more than half have juice, nectar, or fruit claims on their packaging. These products also commonly have claims like “100% Vitamin C,” “No Artificial Sweeteners,” and “100% All Natural” and these claims can mislead parents to confuse the products with 100% juice. Check out CSPI’s “Fruit Fiction” factsheet to learn more about misleading claims on sugary fruit drinks.

Class-action lawsuits challenging claims on individual products can send an important message to manufacturers of similar products. But, to fully address this problem, we need Congress to pass legislation ensuring clear and honest food labels.

The Food Labeling Modernization Act, introduced in August by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), would prevent these misleading claims by requiring that products using fruit and vegetables claims and imagery declare the amount of real fruit and vegetable per serving, right on the label. Wouldn’t that be a more fruitful approach?

Tell your member of Congress to cosponsor the Food Labeling Modernization Act!

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