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Lawsuit targets Cheez-Its over use of the phrase ‘whole grain’

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A lawsuit alleges that Whole Grain Cheez-It crackers are nearly identical nutritionally to the original version. (Kellogg Co.)

As the FDA seeks to reevaluate the term "healthy" as it applies to food labels, the Kellogg Company is now facing a lawsuit over its use of the term “whole grain” on a popular snack item.

A complaint filed Thursday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the “whole grain” version of Cheez-It crackers are nearly identical nutritionally to the original Cheez-Its. The lawsuit says labeling the product as whole grain is “false and misleading, because the primary ingredient in Cheez-It Whole Grain crackers is enriched white flour.”

Unlike whole wheat flour, which contains nutrients and high amounts of fiber, the plaintiffs say that enriched white flour is “refined so that only the endosperm of the wheat remains, which is mostly starch.” A side by side comparison of the nutritional information for Whole Grain and Original Cheez-Its shows the two products have identical values for calories, fat, saturated fats, protein, and total carbohydrates. 

The Whole Grain version of Cheez-Its does, however, have a full gram of fiber, whereas the original version boasts a “less than 1g” value.

“Plaintiffs would not have purchased or paid more for Cheez-It Whole Grain crackers had they known the product contains more refined grain than whole grain,” reads the complaint.

“Consumers are seeking out whole grain foods, and expect that when they see the words ‘whole grain’ on the package that whole grain is the main ingredient,” said the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s litigation director Maia Kats in a statement.

“Kellogg’s Whole Grain Cheez-Its have more white flour than whole grain. It’s effectively a junk food, and Kellogg is taking financial advantage of consumers who are trying to make better decisions for their health.”

Kellogg appears ready to fight the lawsuit. Responding to a request for comment from Consumerist, the food corporation says the suit is “completely without merit.”

Says the Michigan-based company, “Our Cheez-It Whole Grain labels are accurate and in full compliance with FDA regulations,” reads the statement. We stand behind our foods and our labels.”

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration does not have enforceable rules on what constitutes a whole grain product. But it has provided industry guidelines on how best to use the term when it comes to labeling food. 

The plantiffs are asking Kellogg's to stop marketing the Whole Grain Cheez-Its as such and seeking class action status for the suit.