Tropicana Settles FTC Charges It Lacked Evidence to Support Heart and Stroke-Related Claims Made for Its “Healthy Heart” Juice
The Federal Trade Commission has settled a complaint against Tropicana Products, Inc., in which it alleged the company misled consumers with claims that drinking two to three glasses a day of its “Healthy Heart” orange juice would produce dramatic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and homocysteine levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Under the terms of the consent agreement settling the charges, Tropicana is prohibited from making similar health-related claims in the future unless they can be substantiated by reliable scientific evidence.
According to the Commission, Tropicana ran the “Healthy Heart” ads between 2002 and early 2004, on television and in publications such as Newsweek magazine. The ads claimed that drinking two to three cups of Tropicana orange juice each day would lower systolic blood pressure by 10 points, raise HDL cholesterol by 21 percent and improve the HDL to LDL cholesterol ratio by 16 percent, increase blood folate levels by 45 percent and lower blood homocysteine levels by 11 percent. The complaint charges that the benefits were not substantiated and claims of clinical support for them were false.
“Orange juice contains many nutrients important to a healthy diet, and advertising can be an important source of information about the health benefits of foods,” said Lydia Parnes, Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But it is essential that such advertising be truthful. In this case Tropicana’s claims went well beyond its scientific support.”
According to the Commission, Tropicana ran the “Healthy Heart” ad as a two-page spread in Newsweek magazine in February 2004. In 2002, Tropicana ran a more extensive national advertising campaign, including several television commercials and a full-page print ad in the New York Times, as cited in the Commission’s complaint. The 2002 ad campaign made a claim virtually identical to the 10-point blood pressure reduction claim that appeared in the 2004 advertising. The Commission staff had specifically expressed its concerns about the blood pressure claim made in the earlier campaign in a public closing letter in July 2002, but did not seek formal agency action at that time. As the letter noted, although foods that are rich in potassium and low in sodium such as orange juice have been recognized by public health authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke, the 10-point blood pressure reduction claim did not appear to be substantiated.
The Commission’s complaint charges Tropicana with making unsubstantiated claims that: 1) drinking three cups of Tropicana orange juice a day for four weeks will raise HDL cholesterol by 21 percent and improve the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol by 16 percent; 2) drinking 20 ounces of Tropicana orange juice a day will increase blood levels of folate by almost 45 percent and decrease homocysteine levels by 11 percent; and 3) drinking two cups of Tropicana orange juice a day for six or eight weeks will lower systolic blood pressure an average of 10 points. The complaint also charges that Tropicana’s claims that clinical studies demonstrated these benefits were false.
The consent order prohibits Tropicana from making the challenged claims or any similar claims about the effects of orange juice or other foods on blood pressure, cholesterol levels, folate levels, and homocysteine levels or other biological markers or health-related endpoints unless the company substantiates the claim with competent and reliable scientific evidence. The order also prohibits claims by Tropicana that any food will have an effect on the risk of heart disease, stroke, or cancer unless substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. The order also prohibits any misrepresentations relating to tests or studies. Tropicana is permitted under the settlement to make certain claims that comply with specific FDA regulations for food labeling. Finally, the order contains various record keeping requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring compliance.
Tropicana Products, Inc. is based in Chicago, Illinois, and is a subsidiary of PepsiCo.
The Commission vote to issue the administrative complaint and accept the consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. An announcement regarding the consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, until July 1, 2005, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.