Dannon stands up to 'fraud' probiotic claims

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bacteria, Probiotic

Dannon has said that it "categorically refutes" allegations of fraudulent claims made on its probiotic yogurts.

The firm's French parent company, Groupe Danone, has slashed back at allegations in a class action suit filed earlier this week that accused the company of spending $100m promoting clinical benefits of products that the company's own testing disproves. Filed in a California court by the law firms Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins and Mager & Goldstein, the case alleges that claims on advertisements and labeling for the probiotic yogurt Activia pronouncing that the product is "proven"​ to improve one's "intestinal rhythm"​ and "regulate your digestive system"​ are all unsubstantiated. "Deceptive advertising has enabled Dannon to sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ordinary yogurt at inflated prices to responsible, health conscious consumers,"​ stated attorney Timothy Blood on Wednesday. However, Dannon issued a statement yesterday evening saying it "strongly disagrees with the allegations in the lawsuit". ​ It stated the benefits of its products are scientifically substantiated and confirmed by the scientific journals that have reviewed and published the findings - all of which are publically available on the firm's website. It added that the company also regularly consults with independent experts in the field of probiotics about the science behind all of its probiotic claims. "The filed complaint does not contain any support for the broad generalizations made in the lawsuit. The one publication cited in the lawsuit does not disprove Dannon's scientific substantiation for its proven product benefits. Indeed, the report cited in the lawsuit, published by the American Academy of Microbiology, does not even reference any Dannon products." The study in question is entitledProbiotic Microbes: The Scientific Basis. ​ It was funded by Dannon and conducted by leading microbiologists in the field. The lawsuit claims that the study determined in 2006 that there was no conclusive evidence of probiotics providing health benefits.​ Dannon said it is reviewing the lawsuit and plans to "vigorously" challenge it. It confirmed that all claims on its Activia and DanActive yogurts are in accordance with health claim regulations, and that its advertising has always been truthful. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found naturally in the human gut, and are crucial for good gut health. When an imbalance occurs between probiotic and pathogenic bacteria, the result may be digestive problems such as diarrhea, irregularity or constipation. Regular consumption of probiotics is also said to ward off numerous preconditions for an array of diseases. However, a major challenge that faces the industry is the way in which the benefits of different probiotic strains are measured. Because the cultures are live, it is very difficult to implement a standard process, which results in inconsistency. For this reason, regulatory agencies have stayed well away from the establishment of regulatory guidelines, resulting in not all products on the shelves labeled as probiotics behaving in the same manner. This is a challenge that has long been preoccupying the probiotics industry, which teamed up several years ago to create the International Probiotics Association (IPA). The group's ultimate goal is to standardize the testing protocols for the probiotics industry, in order to allow for uniform health claims on food products and supplements containing the 'friendly' bacteria. Founding members of IPA include players with a significant stake in the probiotics industry: DSM, Danisco, CHR Hansen, Institut-Rosell Lallemand, Fonterra, Lifeway Foods, Bio-K Plus, Harmonium International, Nature's Way and Nestle Purina. The organization also plans to launch a probiotic seal, which could be used by manufacturers to flag up their products as containing the healthy bacteria. In order to qualify for using the golden seal, companies will have to use the consensus manufacturing process.

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