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FDA to Lower Standards for Health Claims on Foods

Statement of CSPI Legal Affairs Director Bruce Silverglade

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The Food and Drug Administration is poised to lower the standards for making health claims on foods. Manufacturers will be able to make claims about the health benefits of their products based on preliminary scientific evidence that may not stand the test of time. This action represents the biggest rollback in food-labeling standards in 20 years.

Consumers don’t want the federal government to authorize ‘wishy-washy’ health advice by food companies. The new FDA policy is akin to allowing drug companies to make claims even if their products haven’t been proven effective.

The FDA’s grading system for health claims is untested and shouldn’t be used until the agency has completed consumer behavior research that shows that consumers will not be misled. The FDA is putting the cart before the horse by allowing companies to make preliminary claims with disclaimers before it knows whether consumers will be deceived by the messages.

Food companies have been clamoring for weaker regulation for a decade. The Bush FDA is finally giving them what they want, notwithstanding the requirement that claims be accompanied by vague qualifying statements. But many food companies are simply intent on using the First Amendment as a license to practice quackery.

We are also concerned that the FDA’s new procedures for authorizing health claims does not meet the requirements of the law because the agency is ignoring the formal approval process mandated by Congress.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).