May 13, 2009
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Washington, DC–In response to a letter of complaint sent by the National Consumers League (NCL) the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning letter to General Mills for the misbranding of its Cheerios cereal as a cholesterol-lowering product. In September of 2008, NCL’s Executive Director Sally Greenberg wrote to the FDA to complain about the “drug-like claims” on boxes of Cheerios cereal:
“General Mills on the front panel of its Cheerios® breakfast cereal label boldly entices consumers to “Join the Challenge and Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks.” The back panel similarly claims, “You Could Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks,” and directs consumers to “Sign Up Today at CheeriosChallenge.com” General Mills’ claim promises consumers a health benefit (i.e., lowered blood cholesterol levels) merely by consuming Cheerios® breakfast cereal without accompanying changes in diet or lifestyle. NCL understands that such “magic bullet” health claims are impermissible under the laws that your agency enforces and properly are reserved to cholesterol-lowering medications . . .”
The League, founded in 1899 as America’s oldest consumer group, has frequently filed complaints with the FDA on misleading claims, specifically, on manufacturers’ use of the words “healthy” and “natural” on food products and dietary supplements. NCL has also called attention to a manufacturers’ misuse of “low fat” and “fresh.”
The FDA’s warning letter to General Mills contains two significant findings, first informing Chairman and CEO of General Mills, Ken Powell, that “Your Cheerios ® product is misbranded . . . because it bears unauthorized health claims in its labeling.” Secondly, the FDA’s letter finds that “. . . your Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease.” As a result, FDA has informed Mr. Powell that Cheerios is therefore considered a drug and subject to drug regulation by the federal agency.
“We applaud the FDA for taking tough regulatory action in response to NCL’s letter last fall, highlighting the impermissible claims General Mills is making about Cheerios. Consumers deserve accurate information and truth in labeling in the products their families purchase and consume. General Mills should know better than to market its cereals with these false claims,” Greenberg said.
FDA’s letter instructs General Mills to correct its violations and to inform the regulatory agency what steps are being taken within 15 days of receiving the warning. For copies of the NCL letter and the FDA’s response, visit www.nclnet.org.
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.