(NaturalNews) There seems to be a growing trend among food companies to "obfuscate" (a fancy word for fabricating) the ingredients in their products.
Regular readers of NaturalNews.com may remember our recent stories detailing how beverage giant Coca-Cola escaped a federal lawsuit over false advertising for one of its "pomegranate" drinks that contained mostly apple and grape juices, but just enough pomegranate juice to be able to legally list it as a primary ingredient.
Now, Hungry Man frozen dinners is the target of a federal class action suit alleging that they, and other products from parent company Pinnacle Foods Group, contain trans fatty acids, though their labels say otherwise.
The suit, which seeks more than $5 million in damages for consumers who were allegedly mislead into buying the products, charges that Pinnacle Foods failed to disclose trans fat content in its foods, which, if true, constitutes a violation of federal and state laws governing the labeling of food contents and packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has required "that conventional foods declare the content of trans fat on a separate line within the 'Nutrition Facts' label on their packaging" since Jan. 1, 2006, the suit states.
Trans fat responsible for heart disease, stroke - and faulty labeling?
"Consumption of trans fat has been conclusively linked to the development of coronary heart disease, and numerous studies have linked trans fat to increased risk of obesity and diabetes, among other maladies," the suit says.
In fact, the dangers of trans fats have been known for decades. Formed when food makers turn liquid oil into solid fats such as margarine and shortening (called hydrogenation), they were initially used by the food industry to increase the shelf life of products. Trans fats really began to gain attention when Americans began rejecting saturated fats because they contributed to clogged arteries, which led to any number of health problems, including coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.
The food industry switched from saturated, or animal fats, to trans fats in response, but research found that trans fats contributed to the same problems. They raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol levels, while actually lowering HDL, or your "good" cholesterol levels.
As scientists, doctors and the public became more aware of the dangers of trans fats, food companies have begun to use less of it in their products. But that hasn't stopped some of them, apparently, from trying to hide trans fat content.
Using gimmicks and loopholes to hide the bad stuff
"Defendant has in the past, and as of the date of filing, continued to manufacture and distribute processed food products that mislead consumers by failing to disclose the presence and amount of trans fat therein," the Pinnacle lawsuit states. "As a result of these misleading, unfair and deceptive practices, Defendant has made millions (if not billions) of dollars at the expense of the health of American consumers who are not armed with the information necessary to make informed and healthy dietary decisions."
The suit, according to reports, has been brought on behalf of all U.S. consumers who have purchased the Pinnacle group's products, which include - but are not limited to - Hungry Man frozen dinners. The damages sought are in response to alleged violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act, as well as other state consumer protection statutes, and includes charges of negligence, negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment.
Like the loophole Coca Cola used to hawk its "pomegranate" drinks - in a bid to leap headlong into the health food market - Pinnacle may be using one as well.
"[Y]ou should be aware of what nutritional labels really mean when it comes to trans fat," said a representative from the Mayo Clinic. "For example, in the United States if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. Though that's a small amount of trans fat, if you eat multiple servings of foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat, you could exceed recommended limits."