If the Food and Drug Administration had enough money to investigate what it calls "incidents of economic deception," McDonald's might have to reformulate the way they manufacture their cherry pies.

According to Consumer Reports, an investigation of the individual cherry pies sold by McDonald's in four of its New York area outlets showed them to be out of compliance with FDA regulations.

The specific standards for frozen cherry pies which move in interstate commerce require that a cherry pie be 25 percent cherries by weight, without the thickner.

The cherry pies tested by Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, found that the pies contained only about 20 percent cherries.

A survey of 11 McDonald's cherry pies from four outlets in the Washington area provided similar results. Not one of the pies contained 25 percent cherries and the number of the cherries in each pie varied from one-half to 6. Most pies had 4 cherries.

The pies are supposed to "average five cherries" said Doug Timberlake, a McDonald's spokesman, but sometimes "the cherries become lodged in the opening" of the machine that pours them out into the crust "so only the slurry [the thickener, etc.] comes through." Timberlake says: "We count cherries instead of weighing them. It's done on a random but routine system after the product is put together. On a four-year average, as a result of quality control the average cherry count per pie has been 5 1/2 cherries."

This, however, does not explain why even pies with five or more cherries do not meet the FDA standards.

McDonald's disputed the findings: "Our four-year average indicates we are meeting or exceeding standards. However, it is not uncommon when dealing with high-speed mass production that occasionally you will fall below that average."

In addition, according to Consumer Reports, the cherry pie package violates FDA regulations because it does not contain a list of ingredients, distributor's address, or net-weight statement."

Timberlake said, "McDonald's quality assurance department believes the company is exempted from labeling requirements" and he cited a certain section of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which he read to a reporter.

Acfording to FDA's Associate Director for Compliance Taylor Quinn, "they didn't quote the whole thing."

Quinn said because the cherry pies are in labeled packages they are not exempt."The product must be labeled before the consumer gets it. If they didn't package it," Quinn explained, "it might be a different story." But he added, "you have to realize we just don't have the manpower to go after retail establishments, as industry realizes."