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.