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Is That Right? In 22 cases, FDA says "No, it's not!"

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's been playing a bit of "is that right?" this week. The agency released warning letters Wednesday that it had recently issued to 17 manufacturers of 22 food products that take them to task for false or misleading claims on their packages, Web sites or ads.

Letters went out to companies as familiar as Beech-nut and less-familiar ones such as the Chinese Want Want Foods for its Baby Mum-Mum Original Selected Superior Rice Rusks (a kind of teething biscuit). Both were chided for inappropriately boasting of healthful levels of certain nutrients. The FDA prohibits such claims for foods aimed at kids age 2 and under because healthful levels haven't been established for children that young.

Many of the offenses noted were kind of semantic -- calling a food "healthy" when it doesn't meet the FDA's requirements for using that term. But some seem more serious: Salada Naturally Decaffeinated Green Tea, for instance, was cited for posting information on its web site that portrayed the tea as a treatment or preventive for conditions that range from cancer to dental plaque. That kind of drug claim is reserved for, well, drugs and is strictly regulated by the FDA.

The letter-writing is part of the FDA's broader campaign to clean up the front-of-packaging mayhem that has made grocery-store shelves so bewildering in recent years. The agency issued several related documents, among them this Open Letter to Industry from Food and Drug Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. The letter gives fair warning that the FDA intends closer scrutiny of package health claims, even as it promises to work with the food industry to develop a useful and reliable system for front-of-package labeling.

If they keep this up, they'll put "Is That Right?" out of business. Which, when you stop to think about it, would be ideal.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  March 5, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Is That Right? , Nutrition and Fitness  
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