Most Americans are aware that what we eat has a large impact on our health, both short term and long term. Not least among these is the fact that diet plays a major role in heart disease. In order to ensure that they are making the best possible decisions at the grocery store, many Americans rely on information from the American Heart Association (AHA) in order to provide them with the necessary guidelines. To facilitate this, the AHA marks certain processed foods with a Heart Check mark in order to notify consumers that this particular food follows the guidelines as set out by the AHA.
However, according to the allegations in a recent lawsuit against the AHA and Campbell Soup Co., the Heart Check mark can be misleading. The lawsuit alleges that the AHA collects fees from “manufacturers of unhealthy, processed foods” in return for the manufacturer being granted the right to put the Heart Check mark on their products. However, according to the lawsuit, Campbell’s “Healthy Request” soups allegedly do not meet the AHA’s “non-commercial nutritional guidelines” most notably for sodium. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, the foods bearing the Heart Check mark meet the lower standards of the federal Food and Drug Administration. This could potentially cause problems for many consumers since high sodium consumption has long been association with high blood pressure and heart disease.
The lawsuit alleges that this practice is “unfair, deceptive and misleading” because it “causes consumers to overpay for Campbell’s AHA-certified soups, but also presents substantial health risks to all consumers, including the more than five million American consumers suffering from congestive heart failure”.
According to the lawsuit, Campbell Soup gets to charge customers more for its Healthy Request Products than it does for its other products, while the AHA collects between $5,200 and $17,500 per product each year. So the arrangement is of financial benefit to both Campbell Soup and the AHA while allegedly being detrimental to both the budget and the health of consumers.
The lawsuit alleges that a single serving of Campbell’s AHA-certified soups have “nearly three times the amount of sodium permitted by the AHA’s noncommercial nutritional guidelines, while a full can contains between six and seven times that amount.” Food manufacturers often play with their serving sizes in order to make their food fit nutritional guidelines. The AHA Heart Check mark has allegedly appeared on 97 different Campbell products ranging from soups to juices, breads, and sauces.
Carla Burigatto, Campbell’s director of external communications, has released a statement saying that “Campbell has complete confidence in the accuracy of our labels and our marketing communications and that they meet regulatory and other legal requirements”.
The American Heart Association has likewise denied the allegations of the lawsuit, saying that its “food certification program regularly conducts laboratory testing to verify that products earning the Heart Check mark meet our nutritional criteria”. They are careful to point out that these criteria “are more stringent that those of the Food and Drug Administration.” The AHA also insisted that the revenue from the Heart Check fees “is only sufficient for the program’s product testing, public information and program operating expenses.”
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