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From Antitrust Law Daily, October 30, 2014

FTC charges Gerber with falsely advertising its Good Start baby formula

By Linda O’Brien, J.D., LL.M.

The FTC has charged baby food manufacturer Gerber Products Co., also doing business as Nestle Nutrition, with deceptively advertising that feeding its Good Start Gentle formula to infants with a family history of allergies prevents or reduces the risk that they will develop allergies (FTC v. Gerber Products Co., File no. 132-3009).

In its complaint, the FTC alleged that, since 2011, Gerber has promoted its Good Start Gentle formula through advertisements on television, in magazines, at point-of-sale displays, online, and in other promotional material. Good Start Gentle sells for about $24 for a 23.2-ounce package of powdered formula.

Good Start Gentle is made with partially hydrolyzed whey proteins (PHWP). Gerber claimed that feeding babies this formula, instead of formula made with intact cow’s milk proteins, will prevent or reduce the risk that they will develop allergies. The agency’s complaint charges that Gerber lacked the scientific substantiation to make these general allergy-prevention claims, in violation of the FTC Act.

In addition, Gerber’s ads misrepresented that Good Start Gentle has qualified or received approval for a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) health claim, according to an FTC announcement. For example, some ads prominently featured a gold badge, stating that Good Start Gentle is the “1st and Only” formula that “Meets FDA Qualified Health Claim.”

In 2009, Gerber petitioned the FDA for permission to make a claim connecting PWHP with the reduced risk of one type of allergy, atopic dermatitis, in infants. The FDA allowed Gerber to make the narrow claim but only if Gerber carefully qualified its statement to make it clear that there is “little scientific evidence” for the relationship.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on October 29, 2014. Through its action, the Commission is seeking to prohibit Gerber from making the alleged false and unsubstantiated allergy-prevention claims.

“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Gerber didn’t have evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle formula reduces the risk of babies developing their parents’ allergies.”

The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the federal district court complaint was 5-0.

Companies: Gerber Products Co.

MainStory: TopStory Advertising ConsumerProtection FederalTradeCommissionNews

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