FTC Charges Marketer of Olive Oil with Making False
and Misleading Ad Claims Concerning Health Benefits
Consent Agreement to Settle Charges
FTC News Release
September 5, 1991
The Federal Trade Commission has charged Bertolli USA, Inc., the largest marketer of olive oil in the United States, with making false, misleading and unsubstantiated advertising claims about the health benefits of its olive oil products and with overstating the results of a study on olive oil consumption. Under a consent agreement to settle the charges, announced by the FTC today for public comment, Bertolli has agreed not to make such misrepresentations in future advertising. The company is based in Secaucus, New Jersey.
In a separate but similar action today involving health claims in advertising, the FTC also announced a settlement with Pacific Rice Products, Inc. of Woodland, California, regarding the health benefits of its Vita-Fiber Rice Bran cereal. FTC Chairman Janet D. Steiger said these and other recent food advertising cases underscore the seriousness with which the Commission views deceptive and misleading food advertising. Both cases illustrate an application of the Commission's ad substantiation doctrine; that is, preliminary and inconclusive studies do not substantiate unqualified health claims.
The Bertolli advertisements challenged by the Commission appeared in major newspapers and magazines last year. According to the FTC's complaint, these ads represented without a reasonable basis that eating olive oil reduces blood pressure and blood sugar. The ads also falsely represented that medical science confirms these claims. In addition, Bertolli's ads represented without a reasonable basis that olive oil reduces cholesterol more than other cooking oils used in the home and is healthier for the heart, the complaint charges.
The ads based these claims on a February 2, 1990, article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which summarized a study of the association between olive oil consumption and risk factors for heart disease. The FTC complaint also charges that certain Bertolli ads contained the following false and misleading statements regarding the results of the JAMA study:
- that olive oil is healthier than other oils when, in fact, the JAMA article reports such findings in qualified terms, noting that further study is required to confirm them;
- that study participants who had the most olive oil in their diet had the lowest levels of blood cholesterol when, in fact, the people who had the most polyunsaturated oil in their diet actually had the lowest levels of blood cholesterol; and
- that the study supports prior research that has found monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil, reduce the cholesterol known as LDL, which is bad for consumers, and yet protect the cholesterol component known as HDL, which is good for consumers. In fact, the article did not report any measures of LDL or HDL cholesterol, nor did the study's findings pertain directly to the effects of olive oil on either type of cholesterol.
The proposed order settling these charges would prohibit Bertolli from making the specific misrepresentations regarding the JAMA article that the FTC alleged were false and misleading.
The order also would prohibit Bertolli from misrepresenting that medical science has established that eating olive oil reduces blood pressure or blood sugar. Further, the order would require Bertolli to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate any claim that olive oil reduces cholesterol more than other cooking oils, reduces blood pressure or blood sugar, or is healthier for the heart than other cooking oils. Finally, Bertolli would be required to have scientific evidence before claiming that any edible oil has the ability to cause or contribute to any health benefit, or has a favorable impact on a physiologic function or risk factor for a disease.
Bertolli markets several varieties of olive oil including Bertolli Olive Oil Classico, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and Extra Light Olive Oil. According to industry sources, Bertolli was the industry leader in the US olive oil market in 1990, with a nearly one-third share of the market.
The FTC received assistance from the office of New York Attorney General Robert Abrams in the investigation of this case.
- (Bertolli) FTC File No. 902-3135. FTC Docket No. C-3396.
- (Pacific) FTC Docket No. C-3395. Decision, 115 FTC 763.
This page was posted on August 27, 2006.