The Federal Trade Commission has charged Gerber Products Co., also doing business as Nestlé Nutrition, with deceptively advertising that feeding its Good Start Gentle formula to infants with a family history of allergies prevents or reduces the risk that they will develop allergies.
The agency also alleges that Gerber has falsely advertised Good Start Gentle’s health claims as FDA approved. Through its federal court enforcement action, the Commission is seeking to prohibit Gerber from making the alleged false and unsubstantiated allergy-prevention claims.
“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Gerber didn’t have evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle formula reduces the risk of babies developing their parents’ allergies.”
In its complaint, the FTC alleges that since 2011, Gerber has advertised its Good Start Gentle formula through advertisements that ran on television, in magazines, at point-of-sale displays, online, and in other promotional material. Good Start Gentle sells for about $24 for a 23.2-ounce package of powdered formula.
Good Start Gentle is made with partially hydrolyzed whey proteins (PHWP). Gerber claims that feeding babies this formula, instead of formula made with intact cow’s milk proteins, will prevent or reduce the risk that they will develop allergies. In its ads, Gerber promotes Good Start Gentle by saying, for example: “You want your baby to have your imagination…Your smile…Your eyes…Not your allergies.”
Also, a sticker on the package states that Good Start Gentle Formula is the: “1st & ONLY Routine Formula TO REDUCE THE RISK OF DEVELOPING ALLERGIES.”
The agency’s complaint charges that Gerber lacked the scientific substantiation to make these general allergy-prevention claims, in violation of the FTC Act.
In addition, according to the FTC, Gerber’s ads also misrepresent that Good Start Gentle has qualified or received approval for a Food and Drug Administration health claim. For example, some ads prominently featured a gold badge stating that Good Start Gentle is the “1st and Only” formula that “Meets FDA Qualified Health Claim.”
In 2009, Gerber petitioned the FDA for permission to make a claim connecting PWHP with the reduced risk of one type of allergy, atopic dermatitis, in infants. The FDA allowed Gerber to make the narrow claim but only if Gerber carefully qualified its statement to make it clear that there is “little scientific evidence” for the relationship.
The Commission vote authorizing staff to file the federal court complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Oct. 29, 2014.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The case will be decided by the court.