July 22, 2018

FTC Sues Gerber for Alleged False Health Claims

The Federal Trade Commission has sued the Gerber company (also doing business as Nestle Nutrition) for claiming that some of its baby food can prevent or reduce allergies in children. The complaint alleges that the company misled consumers because the claim is not true.

Feeding-BabyGerber Good Start Gentle formula is made with partially hydrolyzed wheat proteins, which the company claims makes the product easier to digest than formula made with intact cow’s milk proteins. ┬áThe company advertises that feeding this formula to infants who have a family history of allergies will prevent allergies or reduce the risk that they will develop.

Some of the ads read, “If you have allergies in your family, breastfeeding your baby can help reduce their risk. And, if you decide to introduce formula, research shows that the formula you first provide your baby may make a difference. In the case of Gerber Good Start Gentle Formula, it’s the Comfort Proteins Advantage that is easy to digest and may also deliver protective benefits.” The label on the product declares “1st & Only Routine Formula to Reduce the Risk of Developing Allergies.”

The FDA evaluates health claims before companies can put them on labels for foods and for dietary supplements. Gerber petitioned the FDA for a health claim supporting their ads in June 2005. The FDA rejected the request in May 2006.

In 2009, Gerber again petitioned the FDA to use a “qualified” health claim” that their product reduced the risk of only one type of allergy. FDA said that Gerber could use the statement only if they made clear there was little actual scientific evidence to support the claim. Gerber then advertised its formula with “Meets FDA”, “Qualified Health Claim” seals and badges, but did not include the qualifier that little evidence backs up their claim.

Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection said in a statement, “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. Gerber didn’t have the evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle formula reduces the risk of babies developing their parents’ allergies.”

Gerber disagrees and repeated the claim that the formula can help prevent baby eczema. A district court in New Jersey will hear the case.

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