FDA Blasts General Mills Over Cheerios Claim

Cereal Makers Scolded Because Claim Of Lowering Cholesterol 10 Percent In Month Makes It A "Drug"

Company Fires Back: This Is About Language, Not Science

CBS | May 12, 2009
By Elise Finch

NEW YORK (CBS) - The Food and Drug Administration scolded the makers of Cheerios about the way they promote the cereal's health benefits. The FDA sent a letter of warning to General Mills accusing them of making unauthorized health claims.

Current boxes of Cheerios are touting what the company calls exciting news -- the cereal's ability to help lower cholesterol 10 percent in one month. 

"My mother actually eats it every day, seven days a week for breakfast to lower her cholesterol," Staten Island resident Lauren Schwam said. 

According to a letter from the FDA General Mills' advertising violates the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The agency said claims that Cheerios ingredients can lower cholesterol within a certain amount of time, all while providing cancer-fighting and heart-healthy benefits, essentially makes Cheerios "a drug" by their definition. And no drug in this country can be legally marketed without an approved new drug application.

As a certified dietetic nutritionist, Keri Glassman often recommends foods high in soluble fiber for patients looking to lower their cholesterol. 

"Because of the oats, because of the soluble fiber in Cheerios, it may help you reduce cholesterol and I think the FDA is still acknowledging that ... I just think they are saying but you can't really say that because you are a food product, not a drug," Glassman said. 

People CBS 2 HD spoke to say this dispute over the cereal's health claims won't change how often they buy or eat Cheerios. 

"Mostly 'cause kids eat them, they're fun, round, they're easy to eat," said Jennifer Wood of the Upper East Side. 

"It doesn't change what's in the box," added Michael Zorek of the Upper West Side. "It's healthy no matter what they say." 

The FDA gave General Mills 15 days to explain how it will correct the statements on Cheerios boxes.

In a statement issued Tuesday, General Mills said this dispute is over language, not science. The company pointed out that the FDA'a complaint doesn't actually question whether Cheerios can help lower cholesterol levels -- it only talks about how the health benefits are advertised.