Fears about the spread of swine flu have claimed an unusual victim: food packaging. Kellogg Co. (K) said it is pulling labels from its Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies cereals that make claims about boosting children's health.

The cereal giant began adding antioxidants to the Krispies cereals last year, as a response to "parents indicating their desire for more positive nutrition in kids' cereal," the company said in statement. Labels on the cereals' boxes read "Now Helps Support Your Child's Immunity." The nutrients have been shown in studies to boost immune-system health.
Kellogg said boxes of cereal displaying the label will remain on store shelves and that it will take a few months for the change to take effect. The label changes won't affect the amount of vitamins A, B, C and E supplied by the cereals, it said. Packages and ad copy containing the immunity claims were still displayed at the Rice Krispies Web site Thursday morning ET.

Kellogg's decision would appear to be at odds with a study presented last summer that showed whole-grain snacks and cereals benefited the human body by providing it with antioxidants -- except Rice Krispies and Cocoa Krispies are made from refined grains, not whole grains. The University of Scranton study showed that whole-grain snacks, cereals and other foods contain higher levels of antioxidants than their refined grain counterparts; equivalent, in fact, to those of fruits and vegetables.

The research showed raisin bran and cinnamon-flavored cereals provided the highest level of antioxidants, although that was due mainly to the presence of fruit and spices.

Cheerios: A Breakfast Cereal ... or a Pharmaceutical?

Product manufacturers have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years for health claims made on product labels or in advertising.

Two years ago, Kellogg was banned from running TV ads in the United Kingdom after regulators found claims about higher protein and fiber in its Kellogg's Special K Sustain cereal to be dubious.

In May, the Food and Drug Administration warned General Mills Inc. (GIS) that the claims it made about Cheerios lowering cholesterol can legally only be made by drugs.

Kellogg's "supports immunity" claim on its Rice Krispies cereal differs from that of Cheerios, according to the FDA. Such structure or function claims describe the role of a nutrient or ingredient -- not the specific product. It is up to companies to ensure the accuracy and truthfulness of those claims, which aren't approved by the agency.

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