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Nestle Magic: Now You See It; Now You Don't--Ever Again

Food: Candy with toy inside is voluntarily being pulled off shelves. The firm denies claims it poses a danger to children.

October 02, 1997|BILL McALLISTER | WASHINGTON POST

Nestle USA Inc. on Wednesday said that it will stop selling a controversial candy product featuring a small Disney toy inside a chocolate-covered plastic ball that critics said was a danger to children.

A Nestle USA spokeswoman said the company still believes that its Nestle Magic candy was safe but had decided to voluntarily withdraw it from the market because of "an unresolved technical, legal problem" relating to a 1938 federal law prohibiting "nonnutritive objects" inside confections.

"The absence of a final resolution of this legal issue has created an unfavorable environment to market the product," said Frank Arthofer, president of Nestle USA's confections division in Glendale.

The company acted after informing the Consumer Product Safety Commission of a dozen incidents in which children reportedly had gagged on the toys, which are small figures based on popular Disney cartoon characters, such as Hercules and Simba.

The Food and Drug Administration also had informed the company Wednesday that the agency was not retreating from its claim that the candy violated the 1938 law.

The candy, which sells for about $1, had provoked a furor among consumer groups and state attorneys general. But after federal agencies were slow to move against the product, the normally secretive Mars Inc., another major candy company, launched a strong lobbying attack on the product and Nestle's efforts to secure legislation that would have effectively sanctioned it.

Mars hired Carol Tucker Foreman, a food safety official in the Carter administration, to lead the attack on Nestle Magic and to rally consumer groups.

Connecticut State Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal, who had been in the vanguard of Magic critics, on Wednesday said that when the 14 state attorneys general opposed to the product learned Nestle had filed reports of seven gaggings on the toys, they warned Nestle they would make the information public.

"There wasn't much debate about it," he said.

The company said in a statement that there had been a total of 12 incidents of youngsters gagging on the toys reported to federal officials. But spokeswoman Laurie MacDonald said that none was serious enough to require medical attention and added: "We stand by the product's safety."

Blumenthal said the gagging reports indicate the attorneys general were right to warn about the product "before Nestle Magic could become Nestle tragic."

"This really is a victory for parents and children all across the country," said Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.). Last week she told reporters the candy represented "the height of corporate arrogance." On Wednesday, she said, "I congratulate Nestle for doing the right thing."

Nestle could not estimate the cost of this move to the company.

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