Will food be the next pharma?

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Move over pharma: Now that so many foods are making health claims, is it any surprise that organizations like the California Walnut Commission are getting into the healthcare education game? (Walnuts are supposed to contain Omega-3 fatty acids and other "good" fats.) CWC, for example, is supporting a curriculum at an Alabama hospital to teach nurse practitioners about healthy fats, according to this article.

    In addition, physicians employed by food companies are presenting information at medical conferences. This month, at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists annual meeting in Philadelphia, James Greenberg, an obstetrician gynecologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, made a presentation about the benefits of cranberry juice cocktail for preventing urinary-tract infections. Dr. Greenberg is a paid consultant for Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. Ocean Spray says it has long conducted research and marketed health information to consumers, but that in the past couple of years it has refocused energies on physicians."

With all the new regulation relating to what pharmaceutical companies can and can t do in relation to medical meetings (go to mm.meetingsnet.com and search for PhRMA Code, OIG Guidance, AdvaMed Code, and Standards for Commercial Support for articles on the regs), it seems it would just be a matter of time before food company sponsorships and speakers will come under fire as well.

Or maybe not. According to the article, "The new approach to food marketing comes at a time when regulators are making it easier for companies to advertise health claims about their products." While they used to only be able to advertise their products health benefits if the FDA agreed there was conclusive evidence, as of last year FDA began to allow "qualified health claims" for products that just have limited and preliminary scientific evidence.

    Consumer advocates say the marketing tactics are raising some of the same ethical concerns that have drawn widespread criticism in the pharmaceuticals industry. For years, drug-company sales representatives have lavished gifts upon doctors, including golf vacations, cash and expensive dinners in an effort to get doctors to prescribe specific brand-name drugs. While the food-industry marketing tactics aren't at that level, gifts, grants and sponsorships from food companies given to doctors or medical organizations are triggering similar concerns.

And it gets even more convoluted, says the article, with food companies working with pharma to bundle coupons for their products in with drug samples given to docs. And they re exhibiting at medical conferences now, too.

Oy vey.

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