Dairy products maker Dannon will pay $21 million to settle state and federal investigations into alleged deceptive advertising about the health benefits of its Activa yogurt and DanActive dairy drinks, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The multistate settlement, the largest to date involving alleged deceptive claims by a food producer, settles allegations that it exaggerated the digestive, immunity and other health benefits of those dairy products, without providing reliable scientific evidence.
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Dannon, the US unit of France’s Danone S.A. (NASDAQ:DANOY), had claimed in nationwide ads that consuming one serving a day of Activa for two weeks improved digestive health, however many studies showed its benefit only after three servings a day for two weeks.
In one such ad, actress Jamie Lee Curtis had declared that many people suffer from digestive irregularities, then reassured viewers that Activa can help. Upon that claim a screen flashed a shot of a woman’s midsection, on which yellow-green ball-shaped clumps were superimposed, representing the transit of food through the system. The ad explained that Activia eats away at bacteria called Bifidus Regularis, thus benefiting the digestive tract.
“These types of misleading claims are enough to give consumers indigestion,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “Consumers want, and are entitled to, accurate information when it comes to their health. Companies like Dannon shouldn’t exaggerate the strength of scientific support for their products.”
Dannon had also made unsubstantiated claims about the immunity and cold and flu prevention benefits of its DanActive drinks, which it alleged used a Dannon trademarked, clinically proven bacterial strain called L. casei Immunita.
Along with the monetary damages, the settlement disallows Dannon from making unsubstantiated claims that Activa and DanActive, or its other probiotic products, prevent the cold or flu, unless otherwise approved by the FDA.
It is also prohibited from claiming any temporary relief to digestion irregularities unless scientifically proven and cannot make and other claims about the health benefits, performance or efficacy of its probiotic foods, unless its substantiated with reliable scientific evidence.