Federal regulators on Tuesday sued baby food company Gerber for allegedly misleading consumers with ads that claim its formula can reduce a child’s chances of developing allergies.
The company marketed its Good Start Gentle baby formula as a way to “reduce the risk of developing allergies,” supposedly because it is made with easy-to-digest hydrolyzed whey proteins. Packages also boasted a gold seal that implied approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
“You want your baby to have your imagination…Your smile…Your eyes…Not your allergies,” said one ad for the product.
But Gerber didn’t have the scientific evidence to back up its claims, according to the lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission.
The company had received permission in 2009 from FDA to make a qualified claim about the formula’s ability to reduce the risk of only one particular type of allergy, atopic dermatitis, commonly known as baby eczema. But the FDA also required Gerber to note that there is “little scientific evidence” for the claim, which the lawsuit says the company failed to do.
“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement.
Nestlé, which owns Gerber Products Company, expressed disappointment in the FTC’s decision to sue over the marketing of its formula.
“We are defending our position because we believe we have met, and will continue to meet, all legal requirements to make these product claims,” said Kevin Goldberg, vice-president and general counsel of Nestlé Nutrition N.A., in a statement.
Goldberg said extensive scientific evidence supports the role of partially hydrolyzed whey in reducing the risk of eczema in infants with a family history of allergy.
“Gerber always has and will continue to treat its mission of delivering nutrition and benefits to infants as its top priority,” Goldberg said. “We believe the information conveyed in our marketing is important for parents who have children at risk for atopic dermatitis, the most common allergy in infancy.”