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Lawsuits against Cheerios cholesterol claims combined

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 13-Oct-2009

A federal court panel has ruled that five pending lawsuits against General Mills for claims about the purported cholesterol-lowering benefits of Cheerios will be consolidated into one multi-district case.

The five lawsuits all contain similar allegations about health claims made by General Mills regarding its Cheerios cereal. For years, the company has included the line: “you can Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks" on the front of its boxes, as well as “clinically proven to lower cholesterol”.

But the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the company with a warning letter about the on-pack claims in May, because although the agency allows a claim linking a reduced risk of heart disease through eating whole grains from oats, it does not allow companies to claim a specific rate of risk reduction. The plaintiffs have all said that General Mills made false claims which led them to eat the cereal as a way to lower cholesterol in line with those claims.

Now, the lawsuits will be combined into one multi-district federal suit at New Jersey District Court. The federal panel said in the transfer order that due to the similarity of the allegations, centralization was appropriate as a way to eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pre-trial rulings…and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary.”

If the cases cannot be settled at the multi-district level, they will be returned to the federal courts from which they came: the Eastern District of California, the District of New Jersey, the Eastern District of New York, and two from the Central District of California.

The warning letter from the FDA back in May said that eating Cheerios was “not generally recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease.”

At that time, General Mills said in a statement: “The science is not in question…the clinical study supporting Cheerios’ cholesterol-lowering benefit is very strong.”

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