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'Natural' 7UP highlights labelling loophole

Cadbury Schweppes has been threatened with court action in the US for labelling its reformulated soda, 7UP, as '100% natural' when it contains the sugar alternative high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is synthetically manufactured.

The consumer group, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said it will sue the beverage maker unless it drops the claim and commissions corrective advertising. "Though not any better or worse nutritionally than plain table sugar, high fructose corn syrup is spawned from a complex, multistep industrial process," CSPI stated. In a letter to Cadbury Schweppes, CSPI said it aimed to prevent the company from describing any product with HFCS as 'natural.'

The debate over which products should be permitted to employ the 'natural' label is likely to heat up as more companies seek to exploit growing demand for natural and organic products. Despite a Sugar Association petition to the Food and Drug Administration to define 'natural' in March, there remains no established FDA criteria for foods and beverages employing the term, although the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has processing restrictions on meat and poultry products that seek to label themselves 'natural'.

CSPI backed the Sugar Association petition and wrote to the FDA asking it to adopt the USDA standards. "If the FDA were doing its job, perhaps a lawsuit wouldn't be necessary," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "While this particular mislabelling doesn't present much of a health threat, consumers and honest companies shouldn't have to put up with dishonest claims in the marketplace. Happily, though, several states have excellent consumer protection laws that can be used to stop deceptive advertising."

Besides carbonated water and high fructose corn syrup, the other three ingredients in the new version of 7UP are citric acid, unspecified 'natural flavours' and potassium citrate.

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