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Fiber Bars Don’t Need to Disclose Types of Fiber

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit threw out a class action that claimed General Mills and Kellogg lied about the health benefits of the fiber in several of their chewy nutritional bars.

Lead plaintiff Carolyn Turek had alleged that type of fiber used in several General Mills and Kellogg food products offered limited health benefits, can cause stomach problems and is harmful to women who are pregnant or breast-feeding. She said the lies amounted to violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act

Kellogg's chocolate-chip "Fiber Plus" bar, for example, contains inulin, a "non-natural" fiber extracted from the chicory root, Turek claimed. Yet the product's label prominently touts all nine grams of "dietary fiber" as 35 percent of one's daily value. Such claims misstate the value of inulin, Turek alleged.

But an Illinois federal judge ruled that the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 pre-empts Turek's state-law claims. While states can impose regulations and enforce violations under state law, all regulations must be identical to restrictions under federal law.

The 7th Circuit affirmed last week.

"It is easy to see why Congress would not want to allow states to impose disclosure requirements of their own on packaged food products, most of which are sold nationwide," Judge Richard Posner wrote for the court. "Manufacturers might have to print 50 different labels, driving consumers who buy food products in more than one state crazy."

But federal law does not require disclosure that the fiber in the product is inulin, barring the disclaimers Turek said the nutritional labels were lacking.

"Maybe such disclaimers would be a good thing (an issue on which we take no position) and the FDA should require them, but that is irrelevant to this appeal," Posner wrote.

The three-judge panel included its own disclaimer. "Although the procedural posture of the case requires us to assume the truth of the plaintiff's allegations, we of course do not vouch for their truth, which the defendants vigorously contest," Posner wrote.

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