Doctors Group Files Suit against Kraft, General Mills, Dannon, and Dairy Trade Groups for False Dairy Weight-Loss Claims
Suit Seeks Immediate Stop to National Advertising Campaign
WASHINGTON—The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) announced today that it has filed two major lawsuits to stop a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign claiming that milk facilitates weight loss.
PCRM charges that three main dairy industry trade groups—the International Dairy Foods Association, National Dairy Council, and Dairy Management, Inc.—and international food giants Kraft Foods, General Mills, and Dannon—are misleading consumers with deceptive advertising that makes scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the effect of dairy products on weight-loss. McNeill Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of Lactaid, and LifeWay Foods, the manufacturer of a yogurt-like beverage called kefir, are also named as defendants. PCRM filed the suits on behalf of Catherine Holmes, a Virginia resident, who relied on these false claims and actually gained weight while following recommendations contained in a series of dairy weight-loss ads. The suits—one for money damages, the other a class-action suit seeking injunctive relief—were filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia.
“To stem declining sales and boost their bottom line, the dairy industry is duping overweight Americans into believing that milk and other dairy are the magic bullet to weight control,” says Dan Kinburn, PCRM senior legal counsel. “We are serving notice with these lawsuits that we will not continue to let these false health claims go unchallenged.”
The dairy industry’s weight-loss campaign is based solely on two small-scale studies using questionable methodology, led by Michael Zemel, Ph.D., an industry-funded researcher at the University of Tennessee. Since 1998, Zemel has accepted nearly $1.7 million in research grants from the National Dairy Council (NDC), and $275,000 from General Mills. He has also patented his weight-loss program and licensed it to the International Dairy Foods Association. Advertisers pay Zemel for use of his so-called “calcium key” weight-loss program—fees that currently run in excess of $50,000 a year.
“The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence confirms that dairy products either cause weight gain or, at best, have no effect on weight whatsoever,” said Amy Lanou, Ph.D., PCRM senior nutrition scientist. “Since 1989 there have been 35 clinical trials that have explored the relationship between dairy products and/or calcium supplements and body weight. Thirty-one found no relation; two indicated that milk and other dairy products actually contributed to weight gain. Only the two studies led by Zemel have found that dairy contributes to both weight and fat loss when individuals are also restricting calories to lose weight,” said Lanou.
PCRM filed petitions with both the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission earlier this year calling for a halt to the dairy weight-loss campaign. PCRM’s legal staff have uncovered documents from an April 2003 dairy marketing meeting in which industry representatives conclude that a weight-loss claim is likely to withstand scrutiny because of newly relaxed FDA standards.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.