Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration letters targeted producers of cherry products, the warnings weren’t limited to health claims about cherries. TPG Enterprises of Othello, Washington, for example, was warned about statements on its Web site concerning the benefits of eating packaged apple slices, a fact that hasn’t escaped producers of apple products.
One example: "Apples… fight … gum disease and help reduce lung cancer."
Shannon Schaffer, a spokesperson for the Virginia-based U.S. Apple Association, said, "We’re definitely aware of the letter, and it’s definitely of concern to us. It seems to have taken a lot of people by surprise.
"We do understand that you do have to follow the FDA recommendations.
"We have an outside consultant going over the [Web site] materials. We do have the studies to back up the claims; we’re just being very careful about how we word it."
The FDA warned Brownwood Acres Foods Inc., in Eastport, Michigan, about statements on its Web site pertaining to the health benefits of tart cherry, blueberry, and pomegranate juice concentrates and cherry flex soft gel capsules.
One claim: "Pomegranate juice helps fight prostate cancer… A new study…found that drinking pomegranate juice can fight prostate cancer."
Stephanie Magill, a spokesperson with the FDA’s Seattle office, said she doesn’t know if the FDA is planning more such actions against other specific foods.
"I do not have information as to what industries FDA is investigating," she said in an e-mail. "FDA continually looks at claims on products to ensure that they are truthful and not misleading."
Marketing professionals agree that the FDA action raises a challenge as to how fruit companies can educate consumers about the science behind specific health benefits without violating FDA guidelines.
"We’ll have to be much more specific about how you say what the benefits are," Schaffer said. "It’s a difficult situation, but the rules are there to protect the consumer."
Queen said it’s ironic that at a time when the government is encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables for health reasons, they’re making it more difficult for producers to spell out for the public exactly the apparent health benefits of produce.
"They’re saying, "Watch out what you’re telling people."
Queen said he’d like regulators to develop some new rules for producers of 100 percent juice concentrate from any fruit.
"You can’t overdose on 100 percent cherry juice."