Dr. Peter G. Lurie, the president of the Center For Science In The Public Interest (CSPI), summarized (in a year-end appeal for member support), the three immutable principles guiding the organization’s work: (i) People deserve honest, reliable nutritional information about the food they eat; (2) Our government must protect its citizens from dishonest marketing practices (emphasis added), dangerous food additives, and invisible, sometimes deadly pathogens; and (iii) Decisions about what goes into our food – and more importantly what is kept out – must be based on the best, most reliable science, not on maximizing the profits of big food corporations.
When the government fails to protect its citizens from dishonest marketing practices, the CSPI has pioneered the use of civil litigation to stop deceptive, false and misleading advertising. Nonetheless, Dr. Lurie observes that sometimes “just a phone call or letter from our lawyers can effect marketing changes.”
But when a phone call or letter is insufficient, the organization uses the power of litigation to win more honest marketing. Current litigation maintained for that purpose includes two recent lawsuits.
The CSPI has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pastor William H. Lamar IV, Pastor Delman L. Coates, and the nonprofit Praxis Project against The Coca-Cola Company and its trade association, the American Beverage Association. They allege that the defendants are engaged in an unlawful campaign of deception to mislead and confuse the public about the health harms related to sugar drinks.
According to the plaintiffs, credible science linking the consumption of sugar drinks to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease is undermined by the defendants’ marketing and advertising campaigns which promote lack of exercise as the primary driver of these diseases. Plaintiffs also complain that the defendants’ marketing and advertising leads consumers to believe that all calories are the same, when science indicates that sugar drinks play a distinct role in obesity and related epidemics, since such drinks have no nutritional value beyond calories.
The CSPI has also maintained a class action lawsuit against Texas-based Jamba, Inc. and its California subsidiary Jamba Juice Co. This lawsuit alleges that the chain is misleading customers about the ingredients and nutritional value of its smoothies.
While Jamba’s marketing states that its smoothies are healthful and made from whole fruits and vegetables, the complaint states that the drinks are in fact high in calories and sugar and made with fruit juices from concentrate. In addition, it’s alleged that many of the smoothies are made with sherbet or frozen yogurt that contains substantial levels of sugar and corn syrup with a single drink having up to 30 teaspoons of total sugars- bearing little resemblance to the healthful snack advertised. The marketing by the defendants of its smoothies as containing no raw sugar or high-fructose corn syrup is forcefully challenged.
A few years ago in reviewing Fed-Up, a documentary film narrated by Katie Couric, we noted that the maxim, move more, eat less, is not the easy remedy for the extraordinary obesity epidemic that is raging in the United States and which has spread world-wide. Instead, as Fed-Up makes plain in following the personal stories of four obese young Americans, a sugar addiction has taken control of their eating habits.
Hats off to the Center For Science In The Public Interest for challenging food corporations that deceptively market food products and beverages containing added sugar at the root of the obesity epidemic given its addictive nature.
(Frank W. Barrie, 12/8/18)