Gracewood Settles FTC Charges That It Made Deceptive
Health and Disease-Prevention Claims for Grapefruit
FTC News Release
March 29, 1993
Gracewood Fruit Company has agreed to a proposed settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that would require the company to have reliable scientific evidence to back up future claims that eating normal quantities of grapefruit provides a variety of health benefits — including that it significantly reduces serum cholesterol and the risk of stroke, heart attack, and several types of cancer — the FTC announced today. The agreement settles FTC charges that the Vero Beach, FL, company made numerous unsubstantiated health-benefits claims about grapefruit, as well as several false claims about what various studies demonstrate about the benefits of grapefruit consumption.
The FTC complaint, which lays out the charges in detail, cites several claims found in two advertisements for Gracewood grapefruit — one ran in a national magazine and the second is a direct-mail piece — which ran under the headline, "Does a grapefruit a day keep the doctor away?" These ads included statements such as:
- "…men with previous cardiovascular problems who consume elevated levels of beta carotene (such as found in fresh Grapefruit) run about HALF THE RISK OF STROKE AND HEART ATTACK as men who do not;"
- "…grove-fresh Grapefruit also contains high levels of the nutrient beta carotene, which has been 'linked with lowering the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, lungs, colon and esophagus';" and
- "'…new evidence that eating citrus pectin' [found in fresh Grapefruit] 'will help keep arteries clear of cholesterol plaque'."
As sources for these statements, the ads refer to several studies conducted at the University of Florida on grapefruit pectin, as well as a study titled Beta Carotene Therapy for Chronic Stable Angina, reported on at the American Heart Association's 1990 convention (the "Physician's Health Study"). The studies had been reported on in The Gainesville Sun and the Miami Herald, and the Gracewood ads cite these newspaper stories. According to the FTC complaint, however, the ads falsely represent the findings of the studies in several ways:
- Gracewood allegedly represented that the University of Florida studies demonstrate that eating normal quantities of grapefruit significantly reduces both serum cholesterol and low density lipoproteins (LDLs). According to the FTC, however, the studies were based on clinical trials conducted with concentrated pectin with a higher ratio of soluble to insoluble fiber than found in unconcentrated grapefruit pectin, and they involved individuals with elevated cholesterol levels.
- The alleged representation that the University of Florida studies demonstrate that normal grapefruit consumption is significant in helping keep arteries free of cholesterol plaque also is false, the FTC charged. In this case, the studies were based on clinical trials of pigs fed a very high-fat diet and given very high levels of pectin.
- The FTC also took issue with Gracewood's alleged representation that the Physician's Health Study demonstrates that normal grapefruit consumption reduces by one-half the risk of stroke and heart attack for consumers with previous cardiovascular problems. Among other reasons, the FTC alleged that the claim is false because the subjects of the study consumed substantially higher levels of beta carotene than those found in a grapefruit.
In addition to these allegedly false claims, the FTC also charged Gracewood with representing, without substantiation to back them up, that eating normal quantities of grapefruit results in the above-listed health benefits, and that it significantly reduces the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, lungs, colon, and esophagus.
The FTC is seeking public comment on the proposed consent agreement to settle these charges. The agreement would require the company to have competent and reliable scientific evidence before making any of the claims that the FTC cited as unsubstantiated in its complaint. The consent agreement also would require Gracewood to have such evidence for claims that any fruit has a favorable impact on any physiological function or disease risk-factor, or that it offers any other health benefit.
The consent agreement also would bar Gracewood from making any of the allegedly false claims regarding the studies as cited in the complaint. And it would prohibit Gracewood from misrepresenting any test or study in connection with the marketing of any food.
Finally, the proposed order includes a "safe harbor" that would allow the company to make claims that specifically will be permitted in labeling when regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration pursuant to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 go into effect.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0.
The FTC has published a consumer fact sheet titled "Food Advertising Claims" which discusses several common health-related claims and offers advice to consumers for analyzing them.
- FTC File No. 922-3056. FTC Docket No. C-3470.
This page was posted on August 27, 2006.