FTC and Ten States Charge Maker of "Mazola" with Making False
and Misleading Ad Claims Concerning Cholesterol

Company Agrees to Settle Charges

FTC News Release
June 14, 1990

The Federal Trade Commission has charged CPC International, Inc., with making false, misleading and unsubstantiated advertising claims about the effect of Mazola Corn Oil and Mazola Margarine on serum cholesterol levels. CPC has agreed not to make such misrepresentations in future advertising, under a consent agreement announced today for public comment.

The FTC's investigation was conducted in cooperation with ten states — California, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Wisconsin, and Texas. These states today announced an assurance of discontinuance with CPC.

The FTC's complaint cites an ad in which an individual claims in the headline, "Mazola does what? They said it could turn back my cholesterol. I didn't believe it 'til my level dropped 17%." The ad then gives a "CHOLESTEROL PROFILE" with a "BEFORE MAZOLA DIET: LEVEL 225, AFTER MAZOLA DIET: LEVEL 187.11 This ad represents that adding Mazola to the diet without other dietary changes will cause a 17% reduction in serum cholesterol levels, the complaint charges, when, in fact, CPC does not have a reasonable basis for that claim.

The complaint also cites an ad which shows a fried chicken leg with the headline, "Add Mazola, reduce cholesterol. The text reads, in part, "Not only are Mazola products cholesterol-free, but Mazola corn oil and margarine also help reduce your existing serum cholesterol level. Yes, reduce your cholesterol. Because the 100% pure corn oil in Mazola acts to help remove cholesterol from your system." The ad also says, "And as you can see by the luscious fried chicken, you don't exactly have to suffer doing it."

According to the complaint, the ad represents that consumption of chicken fried in Mazola will reduce serum cholesterol levels, when, in fact, it will not cause a reduction when compared to foods containing no fat or cholesterol.

Under the consent agreement, in ads for Mazola corn oil or margarine or any other edible oil or margarine products, CPC is prohibited from misrepresenting:

In addition, CPC must have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate any representation that any oil or margarine product can or may affect heart disease or serum cholesterol levels.

The order does not prohibit CPC from truthfully representing that any oil or margarine product can be part of, or compatible with, a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, and that such a diet can be used to reduce serum cholesterol or the risk of heart disease.

CPC, based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., is a major seller of food products. Its other major brands include Hellmann's Mayonnaise and Skippy Peanut Butter.

The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement for public comment was 4-1, with Commissioner Terry Calvani dissenting. In a statement, Calvani said, "The theory of the staff in the proposed case seems to be either that consumers are astonishingly naïve or that they trouble to interpret advertisements with a remarkable degree of creativity. Unfortunately, acceptance of this consent agreement is not costless. I fear that the instant standard permits the Commission, eager to protect 'the most credulous, gullible and unsuspecting customers.' I too insist upon advertising clear enough so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.' This is unfortunate."

In a separate concurring statement, Commissioner Deborah K. Owen said that only after a review of scholarly literature has she concluded that "at least some reasonable consumers could infer from the two Mazola advertisements the deceptive claims that are alleged in the Commission's complaint," and that "Public comment in this case may be particularly helpful to the Commission in its efforts to articulate advertising guidelines in this sensitive area. Accordingly, I am especially interested in any public comments relating to how these advertisements are reasonably interpreted."

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