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Consumers gain information from new FDA policy on health-claim labeling.

Truthful information about consumer products and services helps consumers to make better informed decisions about buying and using those products; and, on the flip side, false and misleading information about products harms consumers.

In December 2002, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates food labeling, issued a new guidance document updating its policy for health claims on labels for conventional foods and dietary supplements. According to the FDA, a health claim is one that relates a substance or a nutrient to a disease or a health-related condition. To be considered a health claim, both a substance and a disease would be mentioned or inferred. An example: "This cereal contains fiber, which has been shown to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer."

The FDA will now permit "qualified health claims," that is, claims that may need qualification or a disclaimer. Under its new approach, the FDA could allow the label for the food or the dietary supplement to indicate that the weight of the scientific evidence supports the claim, but some evidence does not support the claim. No claims that the FDA says threaten consumers health or safety would be allowed. The new approach is closer to the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) approach of regulating advertising to ensure it is not deceptive or misleading. In its policy statement on advertising substantiation, the FTC notes that when advertisers make an objective claim about a product or service, they must have support for such claims; otherwise, those assertions would be considered unfair and deceptive acts or practices.

In its oversight of food and dietary supplement advertising, however, the FTC in the past had often deferred to the FDA's more restrictive view of consumer information. With the FDA's new guidance document, these two consumer protection agencies' policies are more consistent. More importantly, under the more flexible guidelines, consumers are likely to have better access to health-related information for conventional food and dietary supplements--information that is truthful and not misleading and more readily available to consumers through both labels and advertising.
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Publication:Consumer Comments
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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