The Center for Science and the Public Interest was founded in the 1970’s to monitor nutrition, food safety, and health. The Center’s main objective it to “promote the importance of the link between diet and health to the government, industry, and the public.” The Center has been actively involved in the fight for food labeling, researching the quality of restaurant food, the war against trans-fats, and has actively pursued the removal of soda and junk food from schools. Even though the Center seems to be a leading voice in food reform, it has also pushed its agenda upon many companies with the threat of litigation. The Center wants every food product that may cause harm to a person’s health to be labeled as such. However, isn’t this every type of food on the market, including healthy options if consumed in large quantities?
Recently, the Center has been focusing on natural claims. Natural claims are advertisements that state that the product in question is all natural, pure, or organic. Thus, it would not contain any chemicals, or altered ingredients. However, companies may claim that their products are all natural when in fact, the product contains a trace amount of corn syrup, or red dye number 40. When this occurs, the Center takes it upon itself to threaten litigation on the company in question. Past letters have been sent to Ben and Jerry’s, Cadburry-Schweppes, and Nature Valley. With respect to Ben and Jerry’s, the Center stated that the “all-natural” products contained alkalized cocoa, corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Additionally, even if the company has all natural products in its ice cream, such as cream, the Center States that “this main ingredient is still artery clogging.” Each of these companies upon receipt of the Center’s disdain for the “un-natural” use of its claims, changed their advertisements to avoid litigation. Yet, there are some companies who have decided to fight the claims of this watch dog, but they proved to be unsuccessful in the end.
The Center joined a class-action suit against General Mills, claiming that its fruit roll-up fruit snacks are deceptive to consumers. The box states that the fruit candies are “made with real fruit,” with a picture of a strawberry or orange adjacent to the claim. The Center argued that this is an un-natural claim since the list of ingredients include: “pears from concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, citric acid, acetylated monoglycerides, fruit pectin, dextrose, malic acid, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), unspecified “natural flavor,” and Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.” The Center then goes on to argue the non-health benefits of these ingredients. General Mills acquiesced to the Center, and has agreed to add real strawberries to the fruit snacks in order to include the “made with real fruit” tagline on its boxes by 2014. Should there have been an agreement though?
One could argue that the company was not being deceptive because there are pears from concentrate in the product. Additionally, the snack is flavored to taste like strawberries, so isn’t it logical for there to be a strawberry on the box. Consumers are visual, and without the strawberry how would they differentiate the product from other flavors on the shelf. They would have to take more time to figure out which flavor is which, and becomes the antithesis to the main principles of trademarks. Further, how does the non-health benefits affect the “made with real fruit” claim? A person eating a fruit roll up could easily eat a granola bar instead to get more fiber his or her diet. It has nothing to do with the fruit content of the snack.
Thus, what is the Center’s real policy? To improve the health of society by promoting the benefits to consumers’ health, or to police companies?