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The Government's Role in Establishing Guidelines for Health Claims

December 11, 1986|DANIEL P. PUZO | Times Staff Writer

Health claims on food product labels and advertisements are becoming more common as manufacturers appeal to consumers' increasing dietary awareness. At the same time, the federal government appears to be taking a more activist role in establishing guidelines to prevent commercial abuses.

In the past year, standards have been proposed for the use of the word light on alcoholic beverages and lean on meat products. These moves have followed a previous ruling that established the boundaries under which the Kellogg's Co. could associate its high-fiber brand cereals with an eating plan that may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

The latest move to prevent misleading claims is the Food and Drug Administration's proposal to regulate the use of the word cholesterol on labels and ads.

Lately, many manufacturers, particularly in the cooking oil category, have been promoting products as having little, or none, of this naturally occurring compound. Such a marketing strategy is intended to position processed foods in line with recent recommendations that Americans should reduce cholesterol intake. Excessive amounts of this substance, found primarily in animal sources and byproducts, can clog arteries and lead to circulatory problems.

Under the proposed guidelines, manufacturers could only state that a food was "cholesterol free" if it contained less than two milligrams per serving. Most pure vegetable oils would qualify for the designation, along with most plain breads. However, slight ingredient modifications can easily exclude a processed food from this category, as would be the case with, say, an egg bread.

A "low-cholesterol" food could contain no more than 20 milligrams per serving. In this category, such items as skim milk, uncreamed cottage cheese and a single pat of butter would qualify.

A third statement, "cholesterol reduced," would be permitted as long as a food product was reformulated to contain 75% less cholesterol than the original product. In order to qualify for this designation, a label must contain a statement to the effect that "Cholesterol was reduced from 120 milligrams to 30 milligrams per serving," or whatever the amounts are. The FDA announced its recent proposal in order to receive public comment before a final ruling will be issued sometime in early 1987.

A footnote to the cholesterol question involves the much-maligned egg, which could claim a dual personality under the FDA's guideline. On the one side is the single egg yolk, which contains an extremely high 275 milligrams of cholesterol per serving. Conversely, an egg white is cholesterol free and thus could be promoted as such under the new plan.

Pitching Food--The rash of celebrity endorsements for food products has yet to be reviewed in any government regulatory program, even though media critics have often questioned the practice.

Even so, there will be no disappointing those who prefer portions of their diets to bear the imprint of stars. Recent announcements have indicated that broadcast and print advertisements will be crowded with well-known figures singing the praises of several supermarket staples.

One such association kicks off Jan. 1, as NBC's "Today Show" weatherman, Willard Scott, will use his influence to promote fresh Florida citrus. The first of many television spots featuring the folksy, yarn-spinning Scott will be aired during the telecast of the Florida Citrus Bowl football game featuring USC and Auburn, according to the Packer, a produce industry journal.

Scott will receive $450,000 to juggle oranges and stand neck deep in citrus as a means of drawing attention to, and increasing sales of, Florida's fresh fruit, the report stated.

The Packer also reported that consumers can expect to see singer Kenny Rogers praising Dole-brand products in the months to come.

The Beef Industry Council also gets into the sweepstakes when it begins a $25-million advertising campaign, which will feature TV and film performers James Garner and Cybill Shepherd later next month. The theme for the program will be "Beef . . . Real Food for Real People."

The ads will emphasize meat's nutritional profile and its role as an "all-American food." Previous reports indicate that Garner and Shepherd will each receive $1,000,000 for their efforts.

Raiders Sack Cans--The celebrity draw, so to speak, will also be employed this Sunday as the Los Angeles Raiders allow a local food bank to solicit donations of canned goods from fans entering the L.A. Memorial Coliseum for the game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Those planning to attend the game are urged by the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank to bring a can of food along with their binoculars. Employees of General Telephone will be stationed at clearly marked sites around the stadium to accept the donations.

The food bank acts as a clearinghouse for donated and surplus food from supermarkets, manufacturers and the public, which are then channeled to the more than 350 charitable organizations that feed the needy.

For those not totally motivated to donate food during the holiday season, the Raiders have thrown in an extra incentive. Each individual who brings a canned item to the Coliseum will receive an autographed Raider pennant.

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