Natural, healthy, organic

Big front page story in today’s NY Times: “After Tobacco, Lawyers Set Their Sights on Food Industry.”  Fascinating piece and a clear indication that maybe all this nonsense about “natural” and “healthy” and “organic” foods will be addressed.  Along with “sustainable,” and other terminology that carries a hefty moral weight, the use of these words is meant to indicate that some scientific, medical, or agreed upon consensus exists about their meaning.  As if.

The lawyers, sensibly, are taking this to courts in California because it is a state where, “consumer laws tend to favor plaintiffs.”  True: In September, 2009, “Dannon Co., the U.S. branch of the company, agreed to pay $35 million US to settle a lawsuit that alleged it overstated the yogurt’s health benefits. Dannon claimed its yogurt could strengthen the body’s defences and regulate digestion because of the bacteria in the product.”  That settlement took place in California.  (P.S.: Dannon owns Stonyfield.)

The trend towards litigating against foods companies that make health claims for food while really engaging in marketing is consistent with what the EU has been doing for years.  The US is behind the curve on this.  In ruling against health claims made by companies, an EU spokesperson said, back in 2009, “If the claims are backed by science, it may be permitted, but if they are not, they may be prohibited.”

More specifically, the EU in 2009: “The agency considered 523 health claims related to 200 foods and food components such as vitamins and minerals, fibre, fats, carbohydrates, “probiotic” bacteria and botanical substances.  The study rejected two-thirds of the claims, or about 350. Of that number, nearly half were dismissed for lacking information about the substance on which the claim was based, including probiotic bacteria and botanical substances.”

Enjoy what you eat, of course, but there are no elixirs out there.




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