CSPI drops plans to sue

The Quaker Oats Company has agreed to drop certain claims on labels and in advertising that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says exaggerated the health benefits of eating oatmeal. Quaker will no longer describe its oatmeal as a “unique” whole grain food that “actively finds” cholesterol and removes it from the body, and will no longer display a graph that greatly exaggerated the cholesterol-lowering potential of oatmeal. In turn, CSPI will not file a lawsuit that it warned Quaker company about in October.

“Oatmeal is a healthy food, but that’s no excuse to give people the impression that it will miraculously remove cholesterol from your arteries or to otherwise exaggerate its benefits,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “We are pleased that Quaker was receptive to our concerns and that actually filing a lawsuit became unnecessary.”

New copy on Quaker’s packaging and advertising will read: “as part of a healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal helps remove cholesterol” and “3 grams of soluble fiber daily from oatmeal may help reduce heart disease risk as part of a heart-healthy diet.” The changes are modest but make the new labels truthful, according to CSPI. The products included in the agreement include Old Fashioned Oats, Instant Oatmeal, Oatmeal Squares cereal, Oatmeal To Go bars, Take Heart, and Sun Country Quick Oats.

CSPI’s litigation project, established in 2005, has helped improve food labeling and marketing through settlements with Pinnacle FoodsFrito-Lay, and others. In 2006, CSPI dropped a lawsuit it had filed against KFC after that company announced a switch away from partially hydrogenated oil to heart-healthy soybean oil for deep-frying, and also negotiated an agreement with Procter & Gamble to more clearly label the artificial fat substitute olestra on Pringles Light Fat Free potato crisps. This year, CSPI sued Coca-Cola and Nestlé, the makers of Enviga, a carbonated green tea drink, for marketing the product with deceptive claims about its alleged “calorie burning” properties.

“Of course, the Food and Drug Administration should be the one policing food labels, but the agency is so short-staffed and dysfunctional that officials won’t take action even when a neatly wrapped complaint is handed to them with a ribbon around it and a bow on top,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.