Should Cheerios be regulated as a drug? That’s what the FDA suggested last month in a letter to the breakfast cereal’s maker, General Mills.
The issue originated with a claim on cereal boxes that says Cheerios will “lower your cholesterol 4% in six weeks.” The FDA said in a letter to General Mills that the company’s advertising makes “unauthorized health claims.” Apparently, General Mills would not have been in violation of FDA rules had they left out a specific degree of cholesterol reduction. That pesky little four percent is enough deem Cheerios a drug, and have the FDA “consider the cereal a new drug at that, which cannot be marketed at all without being submitted first for approval.”
The fact that the FDA is involved at all is curious. After all, it’s the Federal Trade Commission, not the Food and Drug Administration, that normally handles questions of false or misleading claims. There seem to be two reasons why this issue is with the FDA. The first is a distinction only lawyers could love: while the FTC generally handles questions of product advertising, the FDA handles food “labeling”, and it was the label that the FDA focused on.
The second reason is more telling. Apparently, virtually no one is claiming that the Cheerios claim is wrong. Everyone seems to agree that cereals like Cheerios are good for you, and even the precise four percent claim is not being specifically disputed. The FDA basically is going after General Mills not because it deceived consumers, but because it didn’t do the required paperwork before telling consumers the truth.
This action illustrates just how out of touch with America regulators can become. The good news is that the American people recognize that this as nonsense: Last week, a Rasmussen poll showed only four percent of the public agreeing that Cheerios should be regulated.
The FDA, and the Administration at large, needs to get back in touch with reality. America wants its Cheerios in the grocery store, not the pharmacy.