(Bloomberg News) The scientist at the center of a dispute over the content of advertising of Dean Foods Co.'s Horizon fortified organic milk said she's satisfied by the company's confirmation that it expects to stop referring to her work on the product's cartons.
"I'm pleased that they're not going to be citing our reference," Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State University, said on July 25.
Cartons of Horizon organic milk fortified with the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA feature a picture of a young girl to illustrate the heart, eye and brain benefits of the additive and include a footnote to a paper by Kris-Etherton about sources of DHA in the American diet.
The use of the reference was "inaccurate. It's really a marketing strategy to sell more of their milk," said Kris-Etherton, who demanded the removal of the citation through the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which published the paper.
The reference to the paper "will likely be removed" when packaging is changed in 2013, Sara Loveday, a Dallas-based spokeswoman for WhiteWave Foods Co., a unit of Dean that controls the Horizon brand, said in a July 24 e-mail.
It's not the first time Dean, the largest U.S. dairy processor, has drawn criticism for its advertising and health claims. The company last year toned down its advertising about claims made about the brain-supporting attributes of DHA, normally found in oily fish, in response to a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission. Dean also is the target of at least five class-action lawsuits filed by consumers alleging that the statement that DHA "supports brain health" is false.
The Food and Drug Administration says that adding foods with DHA and another fatty acid, known as EPA, to a diet may reduce the risk of heart disease. The agency has not authorized specific health claims on DHA's effects on brain and eye health, and some scientists say studies are inconclusive. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is often taken as a fish-oil based dietary supplement.
Kris-Etherton, who has served on nutrition panels for the USDA and the American Heart Association, says her research did not identify an ideal intake level for the supplement. The carton also states that "doctors and nutritionists agree that DHA may make a big difference for kids and adults alike."
"It's appropriate to use published, scientific studies as references for support of a statement," Loveday said. "However, per the author's request, we are considering removal of the reference within our next round of packaging changes in 2013.
High prices -- and controversies over what exactly qualifies as ''organic'' food -- are hallmarks of a market that has grown almost fourfold since 2002, to $29.2 billion in sales in 2011. As consumers embrace organic items, food researchers and organic activists say that a niche sector once dedicated to food purity has been taken over by large corporate interests who are steamrolling a lax regulatory system into approving synthetic additives that dilute the brand.
''There were and are powerful political pressures to weaken the standards, so as many people as possible could qualify as organic,'' says Marion Nestle, a nutritionist at New York University who has studied the growth of the organic industry.
The DHA in Horizon milk is a non-organic oil derived from algae manufactured for the company. On cartons, the milk is described as an ''excellent source of hard-to-get plant-based DHA,'' along with the boast that it has a ''great taste'' with ''no fish oils.''
The disputed brain health claims about DHA give Dean a marketing edge for an organic product that already sells at a premium in retail outlets such as Whole Foods Market Inc. and Trader Joe's Co. A half-gallon carton of organic milk had an average advertised price of $3.93, compared with $1.97 for non- organic milk, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data for the first two weeks of July.