The Federal Trade Commission today announced an agreement with Gerber Products Company to resolve agency charges over Gerber’s claim that four out of five pediatricians recommend Gerber baby food. In fact, the FTC alleged, the study on which Gerber relied showed that only 12 percent of the pediatricians surveyed recommend Gerber. The study also found that, of those doctors surveyed who in fact recommend baby food, 82 percent did not recommend any specific brands of baby food, and of those pediatricians who did recommend baby food, only 16 percent recommended Gerber. The settlement would prohibit the company from representing the extent to which doctors or other health professionals recommend baby and toddler foods or representing any recommendation or endorsement of these products unless it has competent and reliable evidence that substantiates the claim. Gerber also would be prohibited from misrepresenting any survey or research.
"Consumers were led to believe that Gerber had competent or reliable studies proving that 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Gerber," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But Gerber skewed the results of the study by weeding out doctors who don’t recommend baby food at all and those who don’t recommend specific brands. Consumers must be able to believe that claims in advertising are truthful. Advertising that relies upon deceptive doctor recommendations for baby foods is especially troubling in as much as accurate expert advice is critical to reaching these important decisions about child care."
Gerber’s ads expressly claimed that 4 out of 5 pediatricians who recommend baby food recommend Gerber. According to the complaint, these ads, which appeared on television and radio and in print, represented that Gerber had studies or surveys to support the "4 out of 5 claim." The complaint alleges that this claim is false, explaining that Gerber relied upon a specific survey in which 562 doctors responded to questions concerning baby food. Of these 562 pediatricians, 408 responded that they recommend baby food to their patients at least once per week. Of the 408 pediatricians who recommend baby food, only 76 recommend specific brands, and 67 of those recommend Gerber. Thus, only 67 of the 408 pediatricians who recommend baby food, or approximately 16 percent, recommend Gerber to their patients, the FTC said.
The FTC complaint also alleges that Gerber’s ads made a broader implied claim that 4 out of 5 pediatricians recommend Gerber. Gerber did not present adequate evidence to support the second claim that 4 out of 5 doctors recommend Gerber, the FTC’s complaint alleges. Indeed, the survey Gerber relied on showed that, of the 562 pediatricians surveyed, 67 or approximately 12 percent, recommend Gerber. Therefore, according to the complaint, this claim is unsubstantiated.
The proposed settlement would prohibit Gerber from making any claims about the extent to which doctors or other health, nutrition, child care, or medical professionals recommend baby or toddler food, or about the recommendation, approval, or endorsement of such products by any of these professionals, unless the company possesses competent and reliable evidence that substantiates the claim. The agreement also would prohibit Gerber from misrepresenting the results or existence of any survey, test, or research. Gerber would not be prohibited from making truthful, non-misleading statements about survey results.
Finally, the proposed settlement with Gerber also contains a number of recordkeeping and reporting requirements to assist the FTC in monitoring the company’s compliance.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed settlement for public comment was 5-0.
An announcement of the agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. It will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC. Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
The complaint, proposed consent agreement, and an analysis to assist public comment are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov; the consents are available by calling 202-326-3627. In addition, FTC documents are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
FTC File No. 962 3175