TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Olivene Robbins swears that a daily glass of
concentrated tart cherry juice cured her painful gout. "It's almost like a
miracle to me," says the 69-year-old resident of Hickory, N.C.
Consumers like Robbins now are caught in a fight between federal health
officials and the cherry industry. The industry is marketing cherries as health
food, trumpeting research showing they contain helpful antioxidants, along with
testimonials from buyers.
At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration has ordered 29 companies to
stop making unproven claims that their cherry products treat or prevent disease.
"We have the government telling people to eat more fruits and vegetables, and we
have the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding some of these fruit studies--and
now we have another arm of the federal government that says you can't use the
research," said Bob Underwood, whose Traverse City company sells capsules
containing cherry and blueberry paste.
Since receiving FDA letters last fall, some producers of cherry products have
removed or reworded their health benefit statements. Others still make the
connection, and an industry group still tells consumers that cherries are good
Antioxidants are believed to neutralize free radicals--compounds that damage
cells in the body and are implicated in disorders such as cancers and
The FDA told the 29 companies that by claiming their products could prevent,
treat or cure disease, they were in effect calling them drugs. New drugs require