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In a breathless post on its website, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said one of its many lawyers, on a recent visit to the Food and Drug Administration headquarters, saw – “hiding in plain sight” in the cafeteria, “quite literally under the noses of the officials tasked with policing misleading labels” – three beverages with “illegal claims” on their labels. Horrors!
CSPI said the “contraband drinks” made false claims about the memory-enhancing properties of ginkgo biloba and suggested they contained fruit juices that were not actually in the beverages.
CSPI, founded by old school Ralph Nader protégés in 1971, blames it on former President George W. Bush, saying the President Barack Obama Administration “has done more to crack down on deceptive food labeling in the last 12 months than the Bush FDA did in eight years.” But the self-appointed watchdogs say the egregious untruths found in the FDA cafeteria prove the need for “industry-wide rules.”
No, they show the need for enforcing truth-in-advertising standards, and for smart consumers to read the ingredients, not just look at the pretty pictures. It’s a sad fact that labels and advertisements often intend to mislead, but it’s hardly a new problem.
Nor is CSPI’s overreaction anything new. The group has a history of making headlines with shock reports and catchy lines – like calling fettuccine alfredo a “heart attack on a plate” or urging consumers to “just say no” to fried mozzarella, as if they were freebasing cocaine, not frying cheese.
The group has pressed for tobacco-style lawsuits against fast food restaurants, and is a leading force behind efforts to add sin taxes to foods with high fat, sugar, and sodium content. CSPI has even called for mandatory, free equal television time for healthy food advertisements to rebut paid ads by food vendors.
The Washington Times has said that CSPI co-founder Michael Jacobson “argues that people can’t be trusted to make wise and healthful decisions on their own.” Apparently, that applies even to the food safety experts who eat in the FDA cafeteria.
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