Communications pros should have prevented latest round of FDA warnings

Sixteen food manufacturers received warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week for making misleading health claims on food packaging.

Sixteen food manufacturers received warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week for making misleading health claims on food packaging.

Several companies, including Diamond Foods, Fleminger, Pompeian, and Pom Wonderful, were cited for the use of misleading health claims in content created specifically for their Web sites.

As PR professionals take leadership roles within companies and as strategic counselors, they have a responsibility to not just create smart communications programs but to educate and inform the other facets of an organization about the changing dynamics in Washington.

While companies have had a greater rein with health claims in recent years, the administration has changed and the FDA's stance on food safety and health claims has changed.

Notably, the FDA cited content claims like "Studies have also shown that omega-3s may lower the risk of stroke ..." and “a slight decrease in systolic blood pressure was experienced after consuming POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice daily for two weeks."

Margaret Hamburg was confirmed nearly a year ago as the commissioner of the FDA. Since then, the pharmaceutical industry has received a swath of warning letters for online communications, and, last year, General Mills and Nestle were warned over misleading health claims.

All of these incidents generated media coverage and analysis from top-tier media outlets.

PR professionals understand the media cycle. They comprehend the implications of a warning letter and the ensuing costs for packaging, legal fees, and marketing. Many of the agency leaders who work on these accounts also work with traditional healthcare clients on regulated communications.

The higher up the corporate chain communications leaders go, the more responsibility they have to communicate changes in dynamic and tone to their clients and to the company's senior executives.

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