FDA gets tough on Cheerios' health claims

14 May 2009

WASHINGTON, DC: The US Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to General Mills, the food manufacturer, arguing elements of its marketing for Cheerios resembled that for a drug rather than a breakfast cereal, and carried unproven claims regarding the product's health benefits.

Following a complaint made by the not-for-profit organisation the National Consumer League, the FDA outlined a number of "serious violations" to its regulations on Cheerios' packaging and website that needed to be addressed "promptly."

These included the statement that regularly consuming bowls of the cereal could help consumers "lower your cholesterol by 4% in six weeks."

Similarly, the FDA was concerned about the assertion that "eating two 1½ cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol."

Stephen Sundlof, the director of the FDA's food safety arm, said the organisation was not seeking to "impugn" Cheerios, and did not dispute the product could form "part of a healthy diet."

However, he added that its packaging "clearly carries a drug claim," which was part of a broader trend both of brands "looking at these health claims as a good marketing tool," and displaying "a tendency to go too far" in so doing.

As such, he argued the FDA is seeking to "make a bright line here between what can be said about a drug and what can be said about a food."

Tom Forsythe, vp of corporate communications at General Mills, responded that the "clinical study supporting Cheerios' cholesterol-lowering benefit is very strong," and that the organisation would seek to find a "resolution" to the matter with the FDA.

Data sourced from Financial Times/Wall Street Journal; additional content by WARC staff