FTC Urged to Investigate Milk Mustache Advertisements for Making False and Misleading Health and Nutritional Claims
-- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine -
PCRM has filed a new, major complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting an immediate investigation of Milk Mustache ads featuring singers Britney Spears and Marc Anthony, Actor Jackie Chan, and other celebrity spokespersons. PCRM has given information to the FTC explaining why the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board, the dairy industry, and the advertising agency which developed the ad campaign (the "Advertisers") should all be held accountable for what PCRM holds to be false and misleading and, in some cases, fraudulent health and nutritional claims made in the Milk Mustache ads.
Since PCRM filed its previous petition on the milk ads in April 1999, several new ads have appeared. The Dixie Chicks, Mark McGwire, and Venus and Serena Williams, have also appeared in controversial ads. Not only do these ads continue to target ethnic populations with baseless scare tactics, they persist in touting dangerous myths about the benefits of milk consumption.
While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates health claims on food package labels, the FTC regulates claims in advertising and it relies on the FDA's standards in judging fairness and accuracy in ads. For example, the FDA authorizes the health claim that calcium-rich foods cut the risk of osteoporosis, but only in certain populations -- Caucasian and Asian women in their bone-forming years (approximately 11 to 35 years of age), menopausal women, and elderly men and women. Therefore, the FDA mandates that when making this calcium-osteoporosis health claim, it cannot state or imply that the risk of osteoporosis applies equally to the general U.S. population. Also, the claim must identify other risk factors for developing osteoporosis besides adequate calcium intake, including sex, race, age, physical activity, and an overall healthy diet.
In sync with the FDA's regulations regarding a calcium-osteoporosis health claim, the FTC may also require that an ad disclose the same additional information when the advertiser is making this health claim. The FTC's goal is to prevent the advertiser from oversimplifying the diet-disease relationship and portraying a false impression to consumers.
Contrary to the new Marc Anthony ad, which states -- "Shake it, don't break it. Want strong bones? Drinking enough low-fat milk now can help prevent osteoporosis later. You need to know" -- the truth is that cow's milk consumption does not prevent osteoporosis. In fact, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, as well as one of the highest dairy intakes. Neither does calcium intake affect the development of osteoporosis in young men, a target group of Anthony's ad. The Anthony ad also fails to warn Latino-American consumers, another target of his ad and the majority of whom are lactose intolerant, that cow's milk consumption may cause gastrointestinal distress.
Same goes for the brand-new Jackie Chan ad, which targets Asian Americans and men to consume milk. The Chan ad fails to tell the 90 percent of Asian Americans who are lactose intolerant that they too may suffer the extremely unpleasant consequences from drinking cow's milk while also failing to warn all men that milk consumption has been linked to prostate cancer.
Other milk mustache ads have been even more brazen. An ad featuring Larry King suggested that milk could lower the risk of high blood pressure, a claim specifically rejected by the FDA and not supported by scientific evidence, even the scientific evidence relied on by the Advertisers.
Another very important omission made by many of the Milk Mustache ads -- including the Britney Spears, Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Sarah Michelle Gellar ads -- is that the cause of osteoporosis is not usually inadequate calcium intake but calcium loss. People who consume an animal-protein-based diet tend to lose calcium from their bones surprisingly fast, due to the tendency of animal protein to leech calcium from the bones. Sodium has a similar effect, as do smoking and a lack of exercise.
The solution to this problem is obscured by the dairy industry's propaganda. Not only do these ads fail to point out accurate information -- such as the fact that osteoporosis is very common among people who drink cow's milk -- but they fail to provide any useful information to correct the problem. Trying to cope with bone loss with dairy products is like trying to make up for money that falls through a hole in your pocket by taking a second job. It is better to sew up the hole.
The Harvard Nurses' Health Study reported in 1997 that, among 78,000 women followed for 12 years, those who got the most calcium from dairy products had approximately double the hip fracture rate, compared to women who got little or no calcium from dairy products. The July 2000 issue of Pediatrics similarly reports that, among girls 12 to 18, calcium intake had no effect on bone density, although exercise did help build strong bones.
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