Quaker drops exaggerated oatmeal health claims

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington DC-based better nutrition lobby group, has claimed another victory in its campaign for more responsible food labelling by forcing Pepsi-owned Quaker Oats Company to alter its 'exaggerated' oatmeal marketing in the US.

CSPI said it had dropped plans to sue Quaker after the Illinois-based manufacturer of breakfast cereals, bars and snacks agreed to alter its on- and off-label claims that its oatmeal could "actively find" and remove cholesterol from the body. Quaker also agreed to remove a graph that exaggerated the cholesterol-lowering potential of oatmeal.

"In consideration for Quaker's agreement to make these changes, CSPI has agreed to withdraw its October 20, 2006 notice of intent to sue letter to John C. Compton (of Quaker Oats) and will take no further action regarding these products provided that Quaker implements these agreed upon changes," wrote Dean N. Panos of the Illinois-based law firm of Jenner & Block, which represented Quaker, in a letter to CSPI.

Quaker has already issued new packaging and advertising that will read: "as part of a healthy diet, the soluble fiber in oatmeal helps remove cholesterol" and "3 grams of soluble fiber daily from oatmeal may help reduce heart disease risk as part of a heart-healthy diet." The brands in question are Take That, Sun Country Quick Oats, Old Fashioned Oats, Oatmeal Squares cereal, Oatmeal To Go bars and Instant Oatmeal.

CSPI said while the changes were minimal, it was satisfied they removed the exaggerated tone and content of the original claims. "Oatmeal is a healthy food, but that's no excuse to give people the impression that it will miraculously remove cholesterol from your arteries or to otherwise exaggerate its benefits," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "We are pleased that Quaker was receptive to our concerns and that actually filing a lawsuit became unnecessary."

CSPI has been threatening major food industry players with court action since 2005 when it began its litigation project, successfully fulfilling its aim of better foods and more responsible marketing with companies such as Kentucky Fried Chicken and Proctor & Gamble and another Pepsi-owned division, Frito-Lay, altering campaigns and products in response to CSPI actions.

"The Food and Drug Administration should be the one policing food labels, but the agency is so short-staffed and dysfunctional that officials won't take action even when a neatly wrapped complaint is handed to them with a ribbon around it and a bow on top," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.

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