For the second time in the last 12 months, the Kellogg Company has agreed to advertising restrictions imposed by the Federal Trade Commission related to health benefit claims made about its food products.
Last July, the FTC barred Kellogg from making claims that Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal was “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%.” Specifically, the company was barred from “mak[ing] any representation, in any manner, expressly or by implication … about the benefits, performance, or efficacy of [Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal or any other morning food or snack food] for cognitive function, cognitive process, or cognitive health, unless the representation is true, non-misleading, and, at the time made, [Kellogg] possesses and relies upon competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the representation.”
At the same time, the company launched a new ad campaign for its Rice Krispies cereal, which included product packaging claiming the cereal “now helps support your child’s immunity,” and that “Kellogg’s Rice Krispies has been improved to include antioxidants and nutrients that your family needs to help them stay healthy.” The decision to run these claims so close to its prior FTC settlement did the company no favors, as noted by two members of the Commission in a concurring statement to the consent order. “What is particularly disconcerting to us is that at the same time that Kellogg was making promises to the Commission regarding Frosted Mini-Wheats, the company was preparing to make problematic claims about Rice Krispies,” Commissioner Julie Brill and Chairman Jon Leibowitz wrote.
Under the expanded order, the company is prohibited from making claims about any health benefit of any food unless the claims are backed by scientific evidence and are not misleading. The new order also specifies the definition of “competent and reliable scientific evidence,” stating it is required to be “sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted in the relevant scientific field when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that the representation is true.”
Kellogg has already faced regulatory action for its claims about Rice Krispies. Last November it agreed to stop using certain immunity-boosting claims after the San Francisco city attorney sent the company a letter, and in December 2009, the company settled with the Oregon Justice Department over the same immunity claims, agreeing to destroy 2 million units of packaging and donating the cereal to charity organizations.
To see the front label of the Rice Krispies packaging, click here:
For the back label, click here.
To read the 2009 Consent Order, click here.
To read the 2010 Consent Order, click here.
And the concurring statement in the 2010 Order, click here.
Why it matters: The order is just the latest example in a series of attempts by the FTC to crack down on health claims made on food labeling and packaging, including last year’s order involving Frosted Mini-Wheats. Food companies should be careful when making health claims, especially those aimed at children.