FDA official pushes health info in food ads

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New Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Mark McClellan is suggesting food labeling and ads should contain better health information, and said studies show direct-to-consumer drug ads have had positive effects in informing consumers.

"I would like to see a lot more food labeling and advertising focused not just on whether it tastes good and how easy it is to prepare, and whether it's supersize or not," he said, to instead focus on "what the actual impact on the patient's health will be." Dr. McClellan made his remarks before the first joint government affairs conference in Washington held March 12 by major ad groups and co-sponsored by the Washington Post.

better guidance

The ad groups, the American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the International Advertising Association had held mostly separate government affairs conferences before, but agreed to merge the sessions as part of a move to cut costs.

Dr. McClellan said he wanted to give better guidance on risk and benefit messages related to DTC ads and said the FDA will shortly unveil a proceeding to get suggestions on the issue. He also said that both FDA and private studies showed one effect of DTC drug ads is to prompt consumers to go to their doctors and talk about problems that hadn't been mentioned previously.

However, he also said the FDA intends to step up enforcement actions against misleading DTC ad claims. He said one reason the FDA has let Health and Human Services lawyers examine enforcement letters before they are sent is to assure that the initial letters are specific enough that they can be cited in action for repeat violators.

The decision to allow the FDA letters to be reviewed has drawn congressional criticism, with several legislators saying it delays letters and allows marketers to make claims longer. Dr. McClellan said the delay is decreasing.

criticism

At the conference, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy Muris again called on media companies to do a better job of reviewing weight loss and drug ads that make obviously bogus claims before allowing them to run.

He also called on advertisers to pressure media companies to act. "I urge you to make clear to the media that in selecting where ads run, you want to know what they do to protect their readers, viewers and honest advertisers from deception," Mr. Muris said.

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