CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- In the latest of searing indictments on the package-food industry, the FDA has issued letters to 17 companies, including Nestle, Diamond Foods and POM, demanding changes to product labels.
According to the FDA, 22 products made by the companies violate the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The violations include unauthorized health or nutrient-content claims, and unauthorized use of words such as "healthy," which have strict, regulated definitions. Companies receiving these letters must respond within 15 business days, detailing the steps being taken to correct their labeling.
"Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States," Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a letter to the industry.
Among the companies and products being singled out: Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream for Nestle drumsticks and Dibs; Gorton's for its fish fillets; POM Wonderful for its pomegranate juice; Nestle Nutrition for several Juicy Juice products, including Brain Development Fruit Juice.
Dreyer's was nabbed for a zero-gram trans-fat claim on the front panel. Spectrum's organic vegetable shortening, according to the FDA claims to be "cholesterol free," but fails to meet the requirements for such a statement. POM and Diamond Foods, which packages nuts, caught the FDA's attention by making health claims for which the agency maintains they should be regulated as drugs.
With the exception of a letter to Nestle relating to Juicy Juice, sent Dec. 4, the remaining 16 are dated Feb. 22 and 23. This means the companies have until March 15 or 16 to respond.
In its release, the FDA makes hay of ramped-up regulation, calling the letters, "the agency's most recent action to help improve consumers' ability to make nutritious choices." Last May, the FDA rebuked General Mills for cholesterol claims used to market Cheerios. In October, the FDA announced that it would establish a regulated front-of-pack labeling system. This ended the Smart Choices initiative, an industry-run push to develop a "healthy labeling" standard.
In today's statement, the agency advised that it "soon will propose guidance regarding calorie and nutrient labeling on the front of food packages." The agency "plans to work collaboratively with the food industry to design and implement innovative approaches to front-of-package labeling that can help consumers choose healthy diets."