CSPI to Sue Coke, Nestlé if Weight Loss Claims Persist

WASHINGTON—Enviga, a new carbonated green tea beverage, claims that it burns more calories than it provides, resulting in “negative calories.” But the nonprofit food watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says that Enviga burns money, and over the long term is more likely to result in a negative bank balance than negative calories. Today CSPI served notice on Coca-Cola and Nestlé, the companies behind Enviga, that it will sue them if they continue to market the drink with fraudulent calorie-burning and weight loss claims.

Enviga is bolstered with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), an antioxidant that occurs in green tea, and caffeine. The companies claim that those substances speed up metabolism and increase energy use. Enviga’s web site and other advertising further claim that there is a “calorie burning effect from a single can,” that it is “much smarter than fads, quick-fixes, and crash diets,” and that it keeps “those extra calories from building up.” CSPI says that the evidence that Enviga has even a minor effect is weak and inconsistent at best, and that the claims violate federal food law and state consumer protection laws.

Enviga is being introduced in test markets in the New York City and Philadelphia metro areas and will launch nationwide in early 2007. It comes in green tea, peach, and berry flavors and costs $1.29 to $1.49 per 12-ounce can. A Coca-Cola corporate press release suggests that drinking three cans of Enviga would burn between 60 and 100 calories. Someone drinking three Envigas a day would need to spend at least $116 a month.

“It's ironic that Coke, a company that has been a major promoter of weight gain, is now pretending that it is coming to the rescue of overweight people,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “They should have called this drink ‘Fleece,’ since that’s what they’re trying to do to consumers. Plain old tap water has zero calories, five calories fewer than Enviga, but unlike Enviga, tap water doesn’t cost 15 bucks a gallon.”

The short-term studies being used to justify Enviga’s claims are mostly small and short-term, and much of that research was paid for by the companies or another green tea company.

CSPI’s lawsuit would seek an injunction prohibiting the deceptive marketing, but CSPI is concerned that Enviga has too much caffeine. The 300 milligrams of caffeine in the recommended three cans of Enviga per day (the caffeine equivalent of nine cans of Coke) is at the very upper limit of what experts consider safe for woman who are pregnant or may become pregnant. The FDA has urged pregnant women to avoid or minimize their intake of caffeine.

Enviga is one in a growing class of so-called “functional foods,” which are fortified with herbal supplements or other substances designed to produce a desired benefit in the body. In 1999 CSPI first petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to tighten its regulations on functional foods, and the agency has been criticized by the Government Accountability Office for failing to protect consumers from misleading claims on such products. At an FDA hearing tomorrow, CSPI will again urge the FDA to crack down on claims made by energy drink manufacturers and other marketers of functional foods.

The deceptive marketing and oddball ingredients of Enviga reflect the soft drink industry’s desperate efforts to make up for fading sales of regular soft drinks with highly lucrative new drinks, according to CSPI.

“If you want to lose weight, drink less Coke, not more Enviga,” said Jacobson.

In the past two years, CSPI’s litigation project has sued KFC for using partially hydrogenated oils, PepsiCo for misleading labeling of several Tropicana drinks, Whole Foods Market for selling a meat substitute called Quorn that causes adverse reactions, and other companies. However, as in the case of Enviga, CSPI often chooses to warn a company prior to filing a lawsuit and solve the problem without litigation. In various cases involving labeling or advertising CSPI has reached agreements with Pinnacle Foods, Quaker, Frito-Lay, and others. CSPI withdrew from the KFC lawsuit after the company switched to trans-fat-free cooking oil.