Fruit companies in states from Washington to Michigan are scrambling to determine how to promote the health benefits of their products without having them classified as drugs by the government.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in October sent letters to 29 cherry growers and packers warning them to remove certain claims from their Web sites and product labels regarding the products’ health benefits. It’s the first time the agency has taken such a step against one particular food product.
Jane Depriest,marketing director for the Cherry Marketing Institute, a trade group representing cherry growers and marketers, said that the Cherry Marketing Institute took the warning seriously and the companies it works with are taking it very seriously also.
"We have always encouraged companies to follow the law," she added. "They are responding."
Producers of cherries, apples, blueberries, pomegranates, and other produce are touting a torrent of research indicating consumption of such products provides considerable health benefits. The FDA warned the companies in question for claiming on their Web sites that fruit products, including juice concentrates, are effective in treating, or preventing, ailments ranging from breast cancer to arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease.
Depriest said the individual companies that CMI works with are responsible for knowing and following regulations governing their industry. CMI didn’t receive a warning, she said. "We don’t sell cherries; we only help companies market them."
Health claims not disputed
Depriest emphasized that the FDA didn’t discount the health benefits of cherries; it’s just that the companies didn’t follow protocol.
"This is nothing new," she said. "Almost every other health product is promoting similar health benefits. I interpreted the