Physicians File Suits Over Dairy Ad Claims

CHICAGO In a pair of lawsuits, a doctors group has accused marketers including Kraft Foods, General Mills and Dannon, along with three dairy organizations, of making false claims in advertising about dairy’s link to weight loss.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said the advertising by the defendants makes scientifically unsubstantiated claims that drinking milk can help a person lose weight.

“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,” PCRM senior legal counsel Dan Kinburn said in a statement. “We are serving notice with these lawsuits that we will not continue to let these false health claims go unchallenged.”

The dairy trade organizations named in the lawsuit are the International Dairy Foods Association, the National Dairy Council and Dairy Management Inc. Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are McNeill Nutritionals, the maker of Lactaid, and LifeWay Foods, the manufacturer of a line of kefir products. The lawsuits, one of which asks for damages, the other for an injunction to stop the advertising, were filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia, the PCRM said.

A representative for General Mills said the company was reviewing the lawsuits. Representatives for Kraft and Dannon could not immediately be reached. Messages were also left with the International Dairy Foods Association.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of Catherine Holmes of Virginia, who the PCRM said relied on the claims made in advertising and wound up gaining weight, the organization said. PCRM earlier this month ran a series of transit ads in Washington, D.C., looking for plaintiffs for a lawsuit. It was not known if Holmes was found through the advertising.

Among the advertising the PCRM is questioning is work from Interpublic Group’s Lowe in New York that is part of the celebrity milk mustache campaign.

Susan Ruland, a representative for the International Dairy Foods Association, said the group stands by the science behind the claims made in ads including some of the “Milk Mustache” work from Interpublic Group’s Lowe in New York.
“This isn’t surprising at all, coming from this group,” Ruland said. “They’re an anti-dairy, animal rights group.”

PCRM is a Washington, D.C. based group that promotes a vegetarian diet and is against the use of animals in medical research, according to its website.

“Our science is strong, we’ve been extremely conservative and careful in terms of everything we’ve said and advised other groups to say in terms of dairy and weight loss,” Ruland said. She said the ads in the “milk mustache” effort are all approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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