Baby-food maker Gerber is being accused by the government of claiming falsely that its Good Start Gentle formula can prevent or reduce allergies in children.
In a complaint filed Thursday in federal court, the Federal Trade Commission alleged that the company misled consumers by suggesting that its formula was the first to meet government approval for reducing the risk of allergies. The FTC said it wants Gerber to pull its claim from labels and advertisements and left open the possibility of asking the court to require Gerber to issue refunds for the $20-plus packages sold since 2011.
Gerber Products Co., also doing business as Nestlé Infant Nutrition, said it didn't violate the law. "We are defending our position because we believe we have met, and will continue to meet, all legal requirements to make these product claims," said Kevin Goldberg, vice president and general counsel for the New Jersey-based company.
At issue is how far Gerber went when claiming that its formula could prevent one type of allergy in infants known atopic dermatitis, a skin rash known as baby eczema.
According to the FTC, Gerber had petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in 2009 for permission to connect its use of partially hydrolyzed whey proteins to reducing atopic dermatitis. The FDA agreed, but only if Gerber qualified its statement by making clear that there was "little scientific evidence" for the relationship.
Instead, packages of Good Start Gentle formula in 2011 suggested it was the first formula approved by the FDA to reduce the risk that a baby would develop allergies in general. "I love mommy's eyes, not her allergies," said one advertisement, released by the FTC.