News of fake blueberries generated a lot of buzz this past week. The Consumer Wellness Center (CWC) produced a video investigating the substitution of real blueberries with “blueberry bits” and “particles.” These substituted ingredients are not the real thing. Far from it, as they typically consist of sugars, starches, syrups, and food dyes. CWC’s goal is to educate consumers to look for clues when buying products, like food dyes, so they can avoid falling for deceptive marketing. What consumers need to know is that not only are deceptive marketing practices illegal, but substituting cheap ingredients for expensive ones, is also illegal and should be reported .
Fake blueberries may be an example of “economic adulteration.” Economic adulteration of food is the practice of using inferior and often cheaper ingredients to maintain competitive prices or entice consumers. For example, replacing real blueberries, which are expensive with a corn syrup dyed “blueberry.” The aim of this practice is to sell a high end product by producing it as cheaply as possible. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act banned the practice beginning in 1938 (§402(b)). Unlike other forms of adulteration banned by the Act economic adulteration rarely presents a health hazard. Instead it’s a consumer protection issue, which sets out to prevent companies from cheating consumers.
Economic Adulteration continues and requires consumers to identify whether they are buying authentic products. Other manufacturers also blow the whistle when they become suspicious of how a competitor can product the same product for cheaper. (The FDA last year called for renewed review of economic adulteration, a place it had lost focus). The FDA stated it would review the claims made by the CWC to determine whether the products identified violated any laws.
As the CWC reminds consumers read the label of items you purchase. Keep an eye out for terms of art like “bit” and “particles” especially when those are following by a long list of ingredients. Not only should you avoid buying the product, consider reporting it to the FDA or state officials.
Below is a definition of economic adulteration under §402(b):
a food is deemed adulterated:
(1) If any valuable constituent has been in whole or in part omitted or abstracted therefrom;
(2) if any substance has been substituted wholly or in part therefore;
(3) if damage or inferiority has been concealed in any manner; or
(4) if any substance has been added thereto or mixed or packed therewith so as to increase its bulk or weight, or reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear better or of greater value than it is.
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