In the last four years, the health-claims issue has generated a constant debate between science and business. Scientists worry about food companies’ getting into the health business and marketers worry about health experts’ getting into the food business.
At the heart of the controversy is the extent to which the government should get involved. Here’s what’s happened so far:
October 1984: Kellogg’s breaks an 82-year prohibition against advertising health claims on food labels by launching a national ad campaign for its All-Bran cereal. The promotion, based on the value of high-fiber diets in reducing the risks of certain forms of cancer, is particularly controversial because the National Cancer Institute, a government agency, helped devise it.
August 1987: The Food and Drug Administration proposes allowing health claims on food labels. The plan is vague and ambiguous, giving food companies a lot of latitude. While it’s pending, the proposal permits manufacturers to make claims.
December, 1987: Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee that oversees FDA, charges that the agency’s proposal had been watered down by political appointees in the Office of Management and Budget, where the document was reviewed before its release. Weiss says that the proposal “strongly reflects the intervention of OMB ideologues who seek unregulated market entry of food products bearing disease-specific health claims.”
January, 1988: Public comment on the proposal ends. The majority of comments oppose it or parts of it.
September, 1988: FDA reviews the comments and sends an amended, more restrictive final rule to OMB. OMB receives an indefinite extension to respond.
December, 1988: Manufacturers continue to make health claims on food labels.