Kellogg Co. has agreed to settle federal charges that it falsely advertised the benefits for children of eating Frosted Mini-Wheats, the Federal Trade Commission announced Monday.
A proposed consent agreement would bar Kellogg from making misleading claims for its breakfast and snack foods and from misrepresenting studies, the FTC said.
Kellogg’s national TV ads asserted that attentiveness improved nearly 20 percent in children who ate the cereal, compared with those who skipped breakfast, the FTC said. But the study the ads refer to found a benefit from eating Frosted Mini-Wheats in only half the children studied, and only 11 percent of the children’s attention improved 20 percent, according to the FTC.
“We tell consumers that they should deal with trusted national brands,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “So it’s especially important that America’s leading companies are more attentive to the truthfulness of their ads and don’t exaggerate the results of tests or research.”
Kellogg issued a statement citing its “long history of responsible advertising.”
“We stand behind the validity of our clinical study yet have adjusted our communication to incorporate FTC’s guidance,” the company said.
A consent agreement does not mean that the company admits to any violation of the law, the FTC says. The proposal will be subject to public comment through May 19, after which time the FTC will decide whether to make it final. After a consent order is final, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions and a violation may lead to a fine of $16,000.
Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer-advocacy group based in Washington, said grocery store aisles have become “a minefield of misleading information.” He said he hopes the FTC’s announcement signals that the government “will no longer tolerate misleading health claims in food advertising.”
While smaller companies have made exaggerated health claims, “it’s truly disappointing to see a major company like Kellogg’s stoop to that level,” Silverglade said.
CSPI said in a statement that it also wants Kellogg to phase out the use of some synthetic food dyes found in some varieties of Mini-Wheats. It says the dyes exacerbate some children’s hyperactivity and behavioral problems and should not be in foods marketed to children.
Kellogg said it is in full compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations on its food dyes, and uses them “at levels safe for our consumers of all ages.”
The company agreed in June 2007 to raise the nutritional value of cereals and snacks it markets to children, avoiding a lawsuit threatened by CSPI, the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and two Massachusetts parents worried about child obesity.
Kellogg also said then that it would not promote foods in TV, radio, print or Web site ads that reach audiences at least half of whom are under age 12 unless a single serving of the product met certain nutritional standards.