The complaint, filed against Campbell Soup and the AHA by plaintiff Kerry O’Shea in New Jersey, alleges the defendants breached the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, and that using the Heart-check mark on Campbell’s Healthy Request soup was “misleading and deceptive to the average and ordinary consumer” given the products’ sodium content.
The soups have 410mg sodium per half-can serving - which meet AHA criteria for the Heart-check (480mg/serving threshold for sodium in soup click here ) - but is far in excess of what the FDA and the AHA recommend for low sodium foods, said O'Shea.
The AHA certifies products that are far less heart-healthy than it otherwise advises consumers to eat
The AHA’s general nutritional guidelines advise people to “eat less than 1,500mg of sodium per day and to choose only low-sodium canned foods, defined by the AHA as foods containing 140mg of sodium or less per serving”, she alleged.
The FDA, meanwhile, sets a threshold of just 140mg per serving for low sodium claims, she added (click here ), yet Campbell Soup says in ads its Healthy Request soups (410mg/serving) have a ‘healthy level of sodium’, she noted.
“The AHA certifies products that are far less heart-healthy than it otherwise advises consumers to eat… A single serving of any Campbell’s Healthy Request soup has nearly three times the amount of sodium permitted by the AHA’s non-commercial dietary and nutrition guidelines."
AHA: Heart-Check program is not a low sodium claim system
However, Amit Chitre, MHA, director, national strategic communications at the AHA, told FoodNavigator-USA that Heart-Check is “not a low sodium claim system”, and is “based on the FDA unqualified claim for coronary artery disease, which includes criteria for fat and cholesterol and in addition, restricts sodium per serving to 480mg”.
He added: “Our Food Certification Program regularly conducts laboratory testing to verify that products earning the Heart Check meet our nutritional criteria.
“Food manufacturers applying to the Food Certification Program pay an administrative fee, which is only sufficient for the program’s product testing, public information and program operating expenses.”
Attorney: 'This complaint appears totally frivolous'
So what do the lawyers thinks?
Rebecca Cross, an attorney at San Francisco-based law firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP, said she did not think O'Shea had a compelling case: "Like many of the other food labeling cases needlessly clogging up our court system, this complaint appears totally frivolous.
"Every can of Campbell’s soup contains nutrition information on the back where consumers can check the sodium content. Plaintiff fails to explain what she understood the heart-check mark to mean or how she was supposedly misled by it.
"And even as alleged in her complaint, the products fall within the heart check requirements for sodium, which are 480 mg per serving, and do not require a product to be 'low sodium' as defined by the FDA’s regulations."
However, Stephen Gardner, director of litigation for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), said he believed the plaintiff had a point.
He added: "The AHA sells the rights to use the seal to companies that make products that are not healthful products.
"For example, one of the reasons we contacted Welch's was that it was using the Heart Check on products that were very high in sugar. A high-sugar product should not be promoted as heart-healthy."
Campbell Soup:We have complete confidence in the accuracy of our labels and our marketing communications
Campbell Soup told us: “Campbell has complete confidence in the accuracy of our labels and our marketing communications and that they meet regulatory and other legal requirements.”
The case is O’Shea v. Campbell Soup Co., 13-cv-04887, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden).