Dairy Groups Got Lawsuits

June 29, 2005
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has filed two lawsuits against a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign claiming that milk facilitates weight loss.

PCRM charges that three dairy industry trade groups — the International Dairy Foods Association, National Dairy Council and Dairy Management Inc. — and companies Kraft Foods, General Mills and Dannon are misleading consumers with advertising that makes "scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the effect of dairy products on weight-loss."

McNeill Nutritionals LLC, the maker of Lactaid, and LifeWay Foods, the manufacturer of a yogurt-like beverage called kefir, are also named as defendants.

PCRM filed the suits on behalf of Catherine Holmes, a Virginia resident, who relied on the claims and actually gained weight while following recommendations contained in a series of dairy weight-loss ads. The suits— one for money damages, the other a class-action suit seeking injunctive relief — were filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia.

The weight-loss campaign is based on two studies by Michael Zemel, an industry-funded researcher at the University of Tennessee, funded by $1.7 million in research grants from the National Dairy Council and $275,000 from General Mills.

He has patented a weight-loss program from his findings and licensed it to the International Dairy Foods Association for fees of up to $50,000 a year.

"The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence confirms that dairy products either cause weight gain or, at best, have no effect on weight whatsoever," said Amy Lanou, PCRM senior nutrition scientist.

Lanou said that, since 1989, there have been 35 clinical trials that have explored the relationship between dairy products and/or calcium supplements and body weight. Only the two studies led by Zemel had found that dairy contributes to both weight and fat loss.

PCRM filed petitions with both the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission earlier this year against the campaign. 

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