More Insta-bullsh*t

No, the Obama administration did not say that Cheerios is a drug.

Yes, Glenn Reynolds misrepresenting the facts for a sake of cheap laugh at a political enemy is old news. But he keeps coming up with new ways of doing it.

The Food and Drug Administration has a rule. If a drug maker wants to claim that his drug cures bunions, he has to put it through a series of tests showing that it’s “safe and effective” in treating bunions and get an approval for that “indication” from the FDA. Before a drug can be put on the market, it must have at least one approved indication: it has to be safe and effective for something. Then it can be prescribed “off label” to treat other conditions, but the manufacturer can’t market it as a treatment for an unapproved indication.

Over foods and “nutritional supplements,” the FDA has much less power. It can forbid inaccurate labeling or adulteration, and it can require that something be pulled from the market if it’s actively harmful.

But although although the FDA can’t regulate “nutritional supplements” and health foods the way it regulates pharmaceuticals, there’s a legitimate concern about the makers of such products selling them based on unsupported medical claims. So the FDA has what might be called the “quacks like a duck” rule: if you’re going to claim some specific medical efficacy for your nutritional supplement or food product &#8212 that is, if you’re going to market it as if it were a pharmaceutical &#8212 then you have to make a showing of safety and efficacy. If it’s marketed as a drug, then its marketing is regulated as if it were drug marketing. Legally, a food sold as a treatment for a disease falls into the category of “drug.”

General Mills, which makes Cheerios, has been marketing it as an aid to lowering cholesterol. The claim is quite specific: “You can lower your cholesterol by 4 per cent in six weeks.” It’s true that oat bran has some cholesterol-lowering effect. It’s not true that eating Cheerios has been shown to be a safe and effective way of doing so, or that there’s FDA-standard evidence for the quantitative claim.

So the FDA wrote to General Mills telling them that if they kept marketing Cheerios as a drug, it would fall into the legal category of “drug” and be regulated accordingly, and that because the claim was an unapproved one, Cheerios as now marketed counts as a “misbranded food.” The FT article Glenn links to is pretty clear.

The FDA warned General Mills that it was, in effect, marketing its Cheerios breakfast cereal as a drug, because the cereal’s familiar yellow boxes carry unapproved claims about lowering cholesterol and reducing the risks of heart disease.

The Instapundit post? Not so clear:



Remember how the Reagan administration became a laughingstock for allegedly trying to classify ketchup as a vegetable?

This week, the Obama administration warned that Cheerios are a drug.

On the bright side for Obama, at least it’s not a Jimmy Carter comparison, this time . .


The quoted passage &#8212 the flat-out lie &#8212 is from National Review Online. Not clear whether Reynolds understands that it’s a lie. But it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t care.

Reynolds certainly knows that things sometimes fit into legal categories that are different from their common-language categories. For example, he would no doubt claim that his repeated acts of defamation are covered by freedom of the press. Is that the same as calling a blog a printing press?

Obviously the Reyonlds readership likes being bullshat. As Machiavelli didn’t quite say, whoever wishes to deceive will always find another who wishes to be deceived. Reynolds hates Obama, and his readers hate Obama. As long as he keeps feeding their hatred they’ll keep coming to his site, and Pajamas Media will keep making money by poisoning the well of public discourse. Feh.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: