National Consumer League urges FDA crackdown on US lemon juice swindle

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Citric acid

National Consumer League urges FDA crackdown on US lemon juice swindle
The National Consumers League (NCL) has urged the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to come down hard on some lemon juice producers for alleged ‘adulteration and misbranding’ of ‘100%’ lemon juice diluted with water.

In a letter to FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the NCL executive director Sally Greenberg said that such producers were violating the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDC act) and were “cheating consumers [within a $100m bottled lemon juice market] plain and simple”.

Greenberg said that tests by third-party provider Eurofins showed that certain brands of lemon juice from concentrate – all labelled as containing ‘100%’ juice – were (in the Greenberg’s words)“heavily diluted with water beyond what is necessary and appropriate to reconstitute the product”.

“Citric acid, and in some cases sugars, are added to compensate for taste,”​ she added.

Brands included ‘NautraLemon 100% Lemon Juice from concentrate – Natural Strength’ (distributed by Sirob imports), which Eurofins said contained only about 35% lemon juice.

‘Lira 100% Lemon Juice from Concentrate’ – distributed by Castella – was only contained about 25% lemon juice, Eurofins’ lab tests showed, while ‘Lemon Time Lemon Juice from Concentrate’ (distributed by the Gourmet Factory) contained only 15% lemon juice.

Finally, ‘Pampa Lemon Juice from Concentrate’ (distributor Transnational Foods) contained only around 10% lemon juice, and stated (on a Nutrition Facts panel on the bottle that requires juice content to be stated under federal law) ‘Made with 100% Juice’.

The FDC act (cited above) states that producers violate the law when (1) any valuable constituent has been in whole or part omitted (2) if any substance has been substituted either wholly or in part (3) damage or inferiority is concealed.

Finally, (4) the law states that there is a violation, “if any substance has been added thereto, or mixed or packed therewith so as to...make it appear better or of greater value than it is”.

Greenberg said: “While any one of these actions violates the law, here all four criteria are met. The products tested omit requisite amounts of real orange juice and substitute water citric acid and in some case sugar.”

She added:“The cheating is concealed by labelling products as 100% lemon juice or simply ‘lemon juice from concentrate’, and the producers make it appear that the products are of greater value than they really are.”

The FDA’s regulation 21 CFR § 146.114 (b) specifically limited water content in lemon juice to that necessary to reconstitute the products, Greenberg said, adding that the products named in this complaint clearly violated that regulation.

She quoted a legal treatise to the extent that fruit juice-derived products are the “paradigm examples of economic adulteration, because there is a direct economic correlation between lower production costs of undisclosed, cheapened product mixing and the seller’s higher profit margin”.

To illustrate the alleged fraud in this case, Greenberg took the example of the NaturalLemon product that states on its label: ‘Two tablespoons of NaturalLemon Juice equals the juice of an average-size lemon’.

Accepting that the bottle contained around 31 two tablespoon servings, she said that – if the firm’s claim was accurate – it would take around 30 lemons to make the juice contained in one quart bottle.

However, given tests results showing that NaturalLemon was only about 35% lemon juice, this meant (according to Greenberg) that the producer was instead only using around 10 lemons.

Given fluctuations in the availability of fresh lemons (especially from Arizona and California) the NCL said that producers had a clear “motivation to cheat”​, and told Dr.Hamburg that the FDA must take enforcement action.

Greenberg said the administration had an obligation to ensure that a “basic consumer staple that plays so many roles in the American diet is what it purports to be”.

“Without that assurance, unscrupulous companies will continue to bilk consumers for millions, and the public will lose faith in the integrity of the food supply,”​ she added.

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