A long awaited Federal Trade Commission study yesterday recommended banning the term "health food" from all food advertising. It said there was no such thing as health food.
In a wide-ranging 269-page report, the FTC staff published recommendations for restrictions on "unfair or deceptive" nutrition and health-related food advertising. The proposed rule, which will be subject to public comment for 60 days before the commission takes it up for consideration, calls for major limitations on what food companies - who spent $1.3 Billion on advertising in 1977 alone - can and cannot say about their products.
The food industry withheld comment on the proposal until it had a chance to study the report.
"The rulemaking record indicates that advertising which fails to provide adequate nutrition information has resulted in widespread consumer confusion about such terms as 'energy,' 'diet,' 'natural,' 'organic,' and 'health,'" The FTC said.
The staff report made recommendations in four areas:
When foods are promoted as providing "food energy" or as a "diet" food, "advertisements must disclose the number of calories in stated servings of the foods," the staff proposed. "This section would prohibit certain false claims about the value of foods and nutrients as sources of energy."
The staff said that any ads containing "food energy" claims would have to definite "food energy" as merely meaning that the food provides calories.
Any advertisements that discuss the fat, fatty acid and cholesterol content of food, under the staff proposal would have to "disclose information necessary to enable the public to understand and evaluate the claim."
Although such advertisements would be allowed to discussed the relationship between the diet and the risk of heart disease, for example under the proposed rules, they also would have to indicate what the food being advertised has in such a relationship.
FTC staff member Thomas Donegan explained that a low-cholesterol margerine advertisement that said that 'no single food can stop heart disease" but went on to extol the benefits of a low-cholesterol diet would be acceptable under the new rules.
The report said that the terms "natural," 'organic" and 'health" "are used in misleading ways and are often misunderstood by consumers."
Consequently, the staff recommended that advertisers be banned from using 'natural" if the food or any of its ingredients has been processed more than minimally of if it contains any artificial or synthetic ingredient. "Organic" also would be forbidden if the food was grown with certain types of fertilizers or if artificial or synthetic substances such as pesticides were applied to it.
As for "health food," the FTC staff felt that the term should be banned entirely "because it cannot be defined or qualified in any meaningful way."
Certain types of health-related claims such as the ability of certain foods to prevent or treat disease also would be banned if found to be false or misleading.
Donegan of the FTC said the proposed rules "will not have the effect of increasing prices," and actually would 'reduce the search cost for consumers looking for certain types of food."
The food advertising rule first was proposed in November 1974, with hearings on the "Phase One" sections of the rule - those dealt with yesterday - were held from July, 1976 through January 1977. Phase Two, which will come later, focuses on vitamins and minerals and certain nutritional claims.