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EDITORIAL: Uh-oh, Cheerios

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2009

The latest verdict from the Food and Drug Administration is that Cheerios is a drug. Parents, then, must be drug pushers.

The FDA sent a warning to Cheerios maker General Mills Inc. that it is in serious violation of federal rules.

"Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease" the FDA letter said. "[Cheerios] may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application."

If the FDA were to win its enforcement action against Cheerios, all the boxes would have to be pulled from grocery-store shelves, and children could only get their morning "fixes" with a prescription from their doctors.

Two claims on the Cheerios cereal box upset the FDA: "Cheerios is clinically proven to reduce cholesterol 4 percent in 6 weeks" and, "Cheerios can help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, by lowering the 'bad' cholesterol."

Susan Cruzan of the FDA's press office told The Washington Times the FDA is not objecting to the fact that clinical studies do, in fact, find that Cheerios do what General Mills claims. What concerns the FDA, according to Ms. Cruzan, is, "This is a food product, and they do have a health claim." Specifically, the agency objects to the preciseness of the claims, which she says would make the product classified as a drug. General Mills "could say 'heart disease,' but they are being specific and saying 'coronary heart disease,' " she explains.

Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauds the FDA's determination and cautions that Cheerios is a "21st-century version of snake oil" that "could dissuade consumers from following proper medical advice on taking cholesterol-lowering drugs and proper dietary advice." The harm supposedly is that customers will read the label as saying that if they eat Cheerios, they can eat bad things in their diet and still get the benefits Cheerios claim.

This is a prime example of the nanny state running amok. Only the government would work to classify a breakfast cereal as a drug for the offense of having correct information on its label.