The Guy From CSPI: We Need Labels! … Uh, But They Don’t Work

The Guy From CSPI is going to tie up the courts with yet another lawsuit.  This time he’s suing the Coca-Cola company over misleading consumers by making health claims for their vitaminwater drinks.  A judge who denied Coca-Cola’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit seems to agree with The Guy From CSPI:

Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that the company’s use of the word “healthy” violates the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on vitamin-fortified foods.

The judge also took note of the fact that the FDA frowns upon names of products that mention some ingredients to the exclusion of more prominent ingredients such as, in the case of vitaminwater, added sugar. The names of the drinks, along with other statements on the label, “have the potential to reinforce a consumer’s mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water,” Gleeson wrote.

So basically, the judge agrees with The Guy From CSPI that consumers are idiots.  We’ll see the name vitaminwater and, after sucking down a mouthful of the stuff, assume the sugary taste comes from one of the vitamins.  It would never occur to us to, say, read the nutrition label.

But wait … wasn’t the push for nutrition labels one of CSPI’s proudest and most successful battles?  I thought whole idea was that if we put all that information on food packages, consumers will make smarter choices.  If the Coca-Cola company discloses the sugar content right there on the label, shouldn’t that be enough to inform consumers that what they’re drinking isn’t just water and vitamins?  Apparently not:

The judge also rejected Coke’s argument that disclosing sugar content on Nutrition Facts labels eliminates the possibility that consumers may be misled into thinking the product has only water and vitamins, and little or no sugar.

Okay, I get it now.  We need all those nutrition labels so consumers will make smarter choices, but by gosh, we can’t actually expect them to read the darned things!  If the product is named vitaminwater instead of vitaminsugarwater, people might be fooled.

In that case, I want to sue the makers of Grape Nuts.  I used to eat that stuff for breakfast, and it turns out there aren’t grapes or any nuts in it.  Rice Chex aren’t named Rice And Sugar Chex, Froot Loops aren’t named Sugar And Corn Flour Loops That Contain Almost No “Froot” Whatsoever, and Lucky Charms never brought me any luck that I remember. 

If the name of a product has to disclose every ingredient, then prepare yourself to go shopping for a box of MILLED CORN, SUGAR, MALT FLAVORING, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, SALT, IRON, NIACINAMIDE, SODIUM ASCORBATE AND ASCORBIC ACID, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN, THIAMIN HYDROCHLORIDE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, FOLIC ACID, VITAMIN B12 AND VITAMIN D flakes … otherwise known as Corn Flakes.

Or perhaps instead of recommending that parents give their kids Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars Oats ‘n Honey as a snack, CSPI would prefer to recommend WHOLE GRAIN OATS, SUGAR, CANOLA OIL, YELLOW CORN FLOUR, HONEY, SOY FLOUR, BROWN SUGAR SYRUP, SOY LECITHIN, BAKING SODA.  Heeeey, wait a minute, Guy From CSPI!   You never told me I’d be giving my kid sugar and brown sugar syrup!  I thought it was just Oats ‘n Honey!  And by the way, you just recommended I give her 29 grams of carbohydrates, including 12 grams of sugar.  I can see why the sugar in vitaminwater has you so upset.

Consumers are not stupid, and putting the sugar content on the label ought to be enough.  Anyone who’s interested in avoiding sugar will take an extra two or three seconds and read it.  I do it all the time.  Now that I’ve kicked my diet soda habit, I drink fizzy, flavored waters.  I always check the labels before buying them.  I don’t buy them if they contain sugar or artificial sweeteners.  It’s really not that difficult.

By the same token, people who aren’t interested in avoiding sugar don’t give a hoot, label or no label.  You can shove all the data in their faces you want, and won’t make any difference.  Even The Guy From CSPI had to more or less admit as much when one of those calorie-count menu laws failed to shame people into eating less in fast-food restaurants:

Nutrition is not the top concern of low-income people, who are probably the least amenable to calorie labeling,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group in Washington.

Follow that logic?  Let’s break it down:

1. We need more labels and menu laws because too many people are obese.
2. A disproportionate share of the obese population is poor.
3. Poor people aren’t “amenable” to labeling.
4. Conclusion:  we need more labels and menu laws.

The Guy From CSPI isn’t actually interested in using label laws to inform us.  His real goal is to use label laws to harass us into eating the way he thinks we should.  Nothing else explains this statement, from another article about CSPI’s nutrition-label campaign:

The Center says companies shouldn’t be able to brag about having “0 grams trans fat!” if the item contains significant amounts of saturated fat.

So … you’re selling a food product that doesn’t contain trans fat, but The Guy From CSPI doesn’t want you to make that claim on the label if the product contains saturated fat — a completely different substance with completely different biochemical effects.  Sure, I get it.  We also shouldn’t allow companies to claim “No Salt!” if a no-salt product contains paprika.  That would make just as much sense.

Part of CSPI’s lawsuit is based on vitaminwater making health claims that aren’t known to be true, such as “may reduce the risk of age-related eye disease” because of the vitamin content.  I agree that drinking sugar water to get some vitamins into your system is useless.  But so is eating Cocoa Puffs to improve the health of your heart, and I don’t see CSPI suing the American Heart Association for putting their stamp of approval on the box.  (If anyone has proof that Cocoa Puffs reduce heart disease, please share.)

When I read about these lawsuits, I’m convinced we need to amend the civil code to include a legal defense titled Go Pound Sand In Your @##.  No lawyers, no legal bills, nothing.  You should be able to walk into court, point to The Guy From CSPI or whichever of his litigation scumbugs is present and say, “Your honor, if it please the court, I’d like to invite the plaintiff to go pound sand in his @##.”

And the court should second the invitation.

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76 thoughts on “The Guy From CSPI: We Need Labels! … Uh, But They Don’t Work

  1. labrat

    My package of Good and Plenty prominently proclaims it is “A FAT-FREE Candy”, my Tostido’s are now “Whole Grain”, my Oatmeal is part of a “HeartSmart Lifestyle”, there are how many junky products with an AHA Heart Check based solely on sat fat and salt content?

    Call me the guy from CSPI goes after all the other bogus marketing that’s just as bogus but doesn’t clash with his agenda. I won’t hold my breath.

    I haven’t forgiven him yet for playing a large role in putting transfats in my foods 30 years ago.

    And that trans-fat fiasco probably caused more harm than anything he can accuse Coca-Cola of doing.

    Reply
  2. Ed Terry

    Some food-like substance manufacturers are getting very creative with the list of ingredients on the label. My favorite is “Wheaties Fuel” which must be very healthy since it has Peyton Manning’s picture on the box. I must admit, it does have some wheat. Here is the list of ingredients in descending order:

    1. Whole Grain Wheat Crisp Rice (Rice Flour)
    2. Sugar
    5. Honey
    6. Canola Oil
    7. Maltodextrin
    8. Wheat Bran
    9. Corn Starch
    10. Brown Sugar Syrup
    14. Corn Syrup Solids

    The nutrition label states there are only 14 g of sugar per 1 cup serving. However, there’s a total of 45 g carbs less 5 g for fiber. The remainder is referred to as “other carbohydrates”. Here’s a hint: what do ingredients 5, 7, 9, 10, & 14 all have in common?

    Mr. Manning has no shame.

    I’m hoping Mr. Manning doesn’t know Wheaties are garbage.

    Reply
  3. Todd

    Tina’s comment reminded me of my fast-fading vegan friend. We really had it out after his third bout of cancer and chemo, after which he could not regain the weight loss, and continued to lose weight. His doctors pleaded with him to eat some meat, and I spent days online trying to find the most convincing information to help him. His reaction was to stop using the Internet, and cut contact for months. When I finally saw him again, he looked like a concentration camp inmate, or someone in old WWII films being liberated from POW camp. He proceeded to rant at me about how useless my bachelor’s degree in science was, and how I had no right to discuss nutrition with him unless I was on a par with Einstein mentally. I had to wonder if his oncologist was on a par with the good physicist, but let it slide. You simply cannot reason a person out of a position they haven’t been reasoned into.

    That last sentence should be made into a poster. So true.

    Reply
  4. Ed Terry

    Some food-like substance manufacturers are getting very creative with the list of ingredients on the label. My favorite is “Wheaties Fuel” which must be very healthy since it has Peyton Manning’s picture on the box. I must admit, it does have some wheat. Here is the list of ingredients in descending order:

    1. Whole Grain Wheat Crisp Rice (Rice Flour)
    2. Sugar
    5. Honey
    6. Canola Oil
    7. Maltodextrin
    8. Wheat Bran
    9. Corn Starch
    10. Brown Sugar Syrup
    14. Corn Syrup Solids

    The nutrition label states there are only 14 g of sugar per 1 cup serving. However, there’s a total of 45 g carbs less 5 g for fiber. The remainder is referred to as “other carbohydrates”. Here’s a hint: what do ingredients 5, 7, 9, 10, & 14 all have in common?

    Mr. Manning has no shame.

    I’m hoping Mr. Manning doesn’t know Wheaties are garbage.

    Reply
  5. John hunter

    Tina,
    Tom is an autodidact. That means he educates himself. As Penn Jilette said, “Only autodidacts need to know that word, we teach it to ourselves”

    I’m writing a post about that on my other blog.

    Reply
  6. k_the_c

    Regarding being an autodidactic, I find this blog site most useful when Tom shares good info instead of bemoaning bad info. But, that’s just me.

    Reply
  7. Todd

    Tina’s comment reminded me of my fast-fading vegan friend. We really had it out after his third bout of cancer and chemo, after which he could not regain the weight loss, and continued to lose weight. His doctors pleaded with him to eat some meat, and I spent days online trying to find the most convincing information to help him. His reaction was to stop using the Internet, and cut contact for months. When I finally saw him again, he looked like a concentration camp inmate, or someone in old WWII films being liberated from POW camp. He proceeded to rant at me about how useless my bachelor’s degree in science was, and how I had no right to discuss nutrition with him unless I was on a par with Einstein mentally. I had to wonder if his oncologist was on a par with the good physicist, but let it slide. You simply cannot reason a person out of a position they haven’t been reasoned into.

    That last sentence should be made into a poster. So true.

    Reply
  8. John hunter

    Tina,
    Tom is an autodidact. That means he educates himself. As Penn Jilette said, “Only autodidacts need to know that word, we teach it to ourselves”

    I’m writing a post about that on my other blog.

    Reply
  9. k_the_c

    Regarding being an autodidactic, I find this blog site most useful when Tom shares good info instead of bemoaning bad info. But, that’s just me.

    Reply
  10. Jo

    You simply cannot reason a person out of a position they haven’t been reasoned into.

    Great quote!! I agree it should be on a poster.

    Reply
  11. Jo

    You simply cannot reason a person out of a position they haven’t been reasoned into.

    Great quote!! I agree it should be on a poster.

    Reply
  12. Mike

    Look, it’s sugar water being sold as viaminwater. The intent is to deceive. The labeling laws mean that only people not paying attention will be deceived.

    If we decide not to prosecute frauds where the mark ought to have known better, we are going to dramatically increase the population of one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet: the bored cop.

    It has water and vitamins. The sugar is clearly listed on the label. Anyone deceived by this product will also buy any sugar-drenched cereal that doesn’t have “sugar” in the product name.

    Reply
  13. Mike

    Look, it’s sugar water being sold as viaminwater. The intent is to deceive. The labeling laws mean that only people not paying attention will be deceived.

    If we decide not to prosecute frauds where the mark ought to have known better, we are going to dramatically increase the population of one of the most dangerous creatures on the planet: the bored cop.

    It has water and vitamins. The sugar is clearly listed on the label. Anyone deceived by this product will also buy any sugar-drenched cereal that doesn’t have “sugar” in the product name.

    Reply
  14. Elle

    Waaaaaaiiiiit . . . . . are you gonna tell me my Gatorade doesn’t have any gators in it too? Because it’s right there on the label so it simply must have gators in it.

    It’s mostly ade.

    Reply
  15. Elle

    Waaaaaaiiiiit . . . . . are you gonna tell me my Gatorade doesn’t have any gators in it too? Because it’s right there on the label so it simply must have gators in it.

    It’s mostly ade.

    Reply
  16. Alexia

    The crazy thing is, most people would not assume that these things are good for you if the gov’t didn’t step in, in the first place, and start telling us what they thought was good for us. It’s ridiculous.

    Agreed.

    Reply
  17. Jane C.

    Just the other day, I went to the supermarket the other day to buy the usual.. I was extremely thirsty and I was craving something sweet so I thought I would pick up the odd vitamin water. As I picked up the vitamin water, some self-righteous hipster grabbed my hand and said to me.. “Why are you buying that? Don’t you know how much sugar is in there! Avoid processed foods at all cost!” Of course the kid was carrying a liter of “organic” soy milk that contains just as much sugar or more than a bottle of vitamin water. Sugar is sugar, doesn’t matter if it’s organic cane sugar, white or some starchy vegetable. People aren’t stupid, I’m tired of these holier-than-thou evangelists telling me what to eat. I know the risks of sugar and it’s not going to stop me or many others from using it.

    Man, you’re patient. I would’ve chewed the nosy moron out, at least.

    Reply
  18. Alexia

    The crazy thing is, most people would not assume that these things are good for you if the gov’t didn’t step in, in the first place, and start telling us what they thought was good for us. It’s ridiculous.

    Agreed.

    Reply
  19. Jane C.

    Just the other day, I went to the supermarket the other day to buy the usual.. I was extremely thirsty and I was craving something sweet so I thought I would pick up the odd vitamin water. As I picked up the vitamin water, some self-righteous hipster grabbed my hand and said to me.. “Why are you buying that? Don’t you know how much sugar is in there! Avoid processed foods at all cost!” Of course the kid was carrying a liter of “organic” soy milk that contains just as much sugar or more than a bottle of vitamin water. Sugar is sugar, doesn’t matter if it’s organic cane sugar, white or some starchy vegetable. People aren’t stupid, I’m tired of these holier-than-thou evangelists telling me what to eat. I know the risks of sugar and it’s not going to stop me or many others from using it.

    Man, you’re patient. I would’ve chewed the nosy moron out, at least.

    Reply
  20. Ramona Denton

    @k_the_c says
    “I find this blog site most useful when Tom shares good info instead of bemoaning bad info.”

    I learn more when Tom shares good information, but sometimes I’m more entertained by the bad info… and it makes me laugh a lot more. Personally, I hope Tom continues to do both.

    The bad information is everywhere and accepted as nutritional wisdom, so it’s important to dispute it. But I’ll definitely share the good stuff too.

    Reply
  21. Ramona Denton

    @k_the_c says
    “I find this blog site most useful when Tom shares good info instead of bemoaning bad info.”

    I learn more when Tom shares good information, but sometimes I’m more entertained by the bad info… and it makes me laugh a lot more. Personally, I hope Tom continues to do both.

    The bad information is everywhere and accepted as nutritional wisdom, so it’s important to dispute it. But I’ll definitely share the good stuff too.

    Reply
  22. Pokematic

    I remember in health class we had to bring in a box of cerial and read the contents while eating it. Big old laundry list of artificial crap I couldn’t even pronounce, but I kept on eating it because it was good. I remember when we watched super lye to you and everyone was all “I’ll never eat McDonalds again” except me who said, “eh it tastes good and is cheap, I don’t care.” Cigarette boxes say “this will kill you” yet people still smoke. So dumb.
    PS: Love the movie. Tell people about it all the time and let them know it’s on hulu and netflix.

    Reply
  23. Pokematic

    I remember in health class we had to bring in a box of cerial and read the contents while eating it. Big old laundry list of artificial crap I couldn’t even pronounce, but I kept on eating it because it was good. I remember when we watched super lye to you and everyone was all “I’ll never eat McDonalds again” except me who said, “eh it tastes good and is cheap, I don’t care.” Cigarette boxes say “this will kill you” yet people still smoke. So dumb.
    PS: Love the movie. Tell people about it all the time and let them know it’s on hulu and netflix.

    Reply
  24. Chris

    What I find frustrating about your American labeling system is that it is displayed only in terms of each serving. Here in NZ we have the nutrition information as per 100 grams as well. It’s just a whole lot more useful to quickly read something as 10% sugar, for example, rather than having to work it out against the serving size.

    Reply

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