Group: Some Functional Foods Dangerous

ByABC News
July 18, 2000, 10:49 AM

N E W   Y O R K, July 18 -- Do you think you may be enlightening your senses by drinking an iced tea supplemented with kava kava, a purported natural anti-anxiety agent?

Think again, says the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Washington, D.C-based consumer group is urging the Food and Drug Administration to halt the sale of dozens of so-called functional foods that it claims are unsafe. The group also wants the FDA to order manufacturers to stop making what it says are false and misleading claims about their products. (See sidebar, below.)

Functional foods often contain supplements such as herbs or minerals and allege health claims along with the nutrient value of the food.

Common Products Targeted

The center is targeting more than 75 products, including Snapples Moon Tea Drink, which contains kava kava; Ben & Jerrys Tropic of Mango Smoothie, which contains echinacea, an alleged immune booster; Arizonas Rx Memory Elixir, which contains gingko biloba, a supposed cognitive enhancer; and Procter & Gambles spire Energy with VitaLift Green Tea and Juice Beverage, with guarana, which is said to have energizing qualities.

The center says kava kava has been in a factor in several arrests for driving while intoxicated; echinacea can cause allergic reactions, including asthma attacks; guarana is not deemed safe by the FDA; and that gingko biloba can be a blood thinner.

Food companies are spiking fruit drinks, breakfast cereals and snack foods with illegal ingredients and then misleading consumers about their health benefits, says Bruce Silverglade, the centers director of legal affairs. It is shameful that respected companies are selling modern day snake oil.

Center: Firms Violate Food & Drug Law

The center alleges the companies are not abiding by federal food and drug laws by putting these chemicals into the food products. The firms are making a determination that the supplements, such as kava kava, ginseng and guarana, are safe rather than going through what is a more lengthy regulatory process of considering these substances additives, says Ilene Ringel Heller, senior staff attorney for the center.