The FTC’s complaints were based on two important counts. The first count was that Gerber claimed its food could prevent or reduce the risk of allergies in babies whose families had a history of allergies. This claim, the FTC argued, was not backed by any appropriate evidence.
The claim was made because Good Start Gentle is made with partially hydrolyzed whey proteins. Gerber said those proteins are easier to digest than proteins from intact cow’s milk. There is, however, reportedly no scientific evidence that the claim regarding partially hydrolyzed whey proteins and allergy prevention is true.
The second count from the FTC is that Gerber claimed that its product was approved by the FDA when it was not, or at least was not approved as advertised. In 2005, Gerber reportedly petitioned the FDA for approval to market its whey-based formula as reducing the risk of allergies in children. The FDA rejected the request, finding there was no credible evidence to support that claim. Gerber sent a second petition in 2009, to which the FDA said “no,” but the agency did say it would allow some leeway if Gerber agreed to communicate that there was “little scientific evidence” that the whey protein was linked to a decreased risk of atopic dermatitis (one type of allergy).
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“Parents trusted Gerber to tell the truth about the health benefits of its formula, and the company’s ads failed to live up to that trust,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a news release. “Gerber didn’t have evidence to back up its claim that Good Start Gentle Formula reduces the risk of babies developing their’ parents’ allergies.”
Lawsuits have also been filed by consumers who say they were misled by Gerber’s advertising to purchase baby food that they thought was effective in reducing allergies, despite a lack of evidence.