False Advertising

Part 1 of 6 in the series Big Lie

The Big Lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” — Wikipedia

“It is appropriate that we consider taste and smell together because they are so intertwined in our experience that most people are unaware that most of what they call taste is really an olfactory experience,” write Michael D. Mann, Ph.D., in The Nervous System In Action.1

And people love the taste of blueberries, but beware of manufacturers misrepresenting their products. “A range of fake blueberries are in a number of retail food items that contain labels or photos suggesting real blueberries were used in the products, according to an investigation” by the nonprofit Consumer Wellness Center:

Its investigation found “blueberries” that were nothing more than a concoction of sugar, corn syrup, starch, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors and — of course — artificial food dye blue No. 2 and red No. 40. The offenders are well-known manufacturers such as Kellogg’s, Betty Crocker and General Mills, and the fakes were found in bagels, cereals, breads and muffins. Some products contain real blueberries mixed with fakes. For example, the blueberry bagels sold at Target contain some real berries but the “blueberry bits” listed in the ingredients aren’t real blueberries, according to Mike Adams, the author of the report.

Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin variety has no blueberries but does have “blueberry flavored crunchies” made from the sugar-and-dye concoction mentioned above.

My personal favorite fraud is Total Blueberry Pomegranate cereal, from General Mills, which contains no blueberries and no pomegranates.

Aren’t there laws against this type of thing?2, i

An exposé titled “Crackdown on Fraudulent Food Labels” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) points out that “for years, CSPI has filed complaints with the [Food and Drug Administration (FDA)] about egregiously mislabeled foods — for example, “blueberry” waffles with no blueberries or “strawberry” yogurt for kids with no strawberries:”

The FDA’s inaction on such products has been taken by food manufacturers as a signal to make even more deceptive claims, said CSPI.

“Food manufacturers are shamelessly tricking consumers who are trying to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” said CSPI director of legal affairs Bruce Silverglade. “Too many processed foods contain only token amounts of the healthful ingredients highlighted on labels and are typically loaded with fats, refined sugars, refined flour, and salt, in various combinations.” 3

“Psychological experiments suggest that regardless of any change to the recipe, consumers will rate the [McDonald’s Signature] burgers as better,” writes Richard Shotton for BrandRepublic:

The fact that our preconceptions determine our experience of a brand is known as expectation assimilation.

One of the most authoritative experiments in this field was conducted in 2008 by Antonio Ragel, an economics professor from CalTech. He served students a range of wines and as they were sampling them he told them the price of each bottle.

While they were savouring the drinks they had to rate the appeal of each one. However, unbeknown to the students the wines, which supposedly cost $90 and $10, were exactly the same.

Despite this the participants reported they liked the more expensive wine significantly more.

In an interesting follow-up, Ragel conducted brain scans while the participants were drinking. When the higher priced wines were sampled there was much higher activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex.

This showed that the taste differences weren’t just self-reported – people were having a genuinely different experience.4

Consumers are led to believe products contain what they see on the package, and well-packaged displays have had a deep impact on what society considers to be true. The film crew for Disney’s White Wilderness, for example, “induced lemmings into jumping off a cliff and into the sea in order to document their supposedly suicidal behavior,” notes Snopes.com, leading to “a widespread belief that lemmings commit suicide en masse when their numbers grow too large.” 5

While this mass suicide behavior is not true for lemmings, it is sometimes seen in human populations as was the case when “over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure,” reports The Independent:

Bharatendu Prakash, from the Organic Farming Association of India, told the Press Association: “Farmers’ suicides are increasing due to a vicious circle created by money lenders. They lure farmers to take money but when the crops fail, they are left with no option other than death.” 6


i The Food and Drug Administration does not require flavor companies to disclose the ingredients of their additives, so long as all the chemicals are considered by the agency to be GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe). This lack of public disclosure enables the companies to maintain the secrecy of their formulas. It also hides the fact that flavor compounds sometimes contain more ingredients than the foods being given their taste. The ubiquitous phrase “artificial strawberry flavor” gives little hint of the chemical wizardry and manufacturing skill that can make a highly processed food taste like a strawberry.
– Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (New York: HarperCollins, 2002, 2001), p. 43.


1 Michael D. Mann, Ph.D., “The Nervous System In Action,” University of Nebraska Medical Center, 1997 at http://www.unmc.edu/physiology/Mann/mann10.html (retrieved: 14 January 2012).

2 Shari Roan, “Fake blueberries abound in food products,” Los Angeles Times, 20 January 2011, at http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/20/news/la-heb-fake-blueberries-20110120 (retrieved: 14 January 2012).

3 “Crackdown on Fraudulent Food Labels Urged: CSPI Exposes Some of the Most Misleading Ingredient Claims,” Center for Science in the Public Interest, 27 Ocbober 2005, at http://www.cspinet.org/new/200510272.html (retrieved: 14 January 2012).

4 Richard Shotton, “Why McDonald’s Signature range will taste better, no matter what,” BrandRepublic, 10 November 2015, at http://www.brandrepublic.com/article/1372036/why-mcdonalds-signature-range-will-taste-better-no-matter (retrieved: 13 March 2016).

5 “White Wilderness,” Snopes.com, 19 August 2007, at http://www.snopes.com/disney/films/lemmings.asp (retrieved: 14 January 2012).

6 “1,500 farmers commit mass suicide in India,” The Independent, 15 April 2009, at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/1500-farmers-commit-mass-suicide-in-india-1669018.html (retrieved: 14 January 2012).

See also

HealthRanger, “Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations,” NaturalNews.com, 18 January 2011, at http://tv.naturalnews.com/v.asp?v=7EC06D27B1A945BE85E7DA8483025962 (retrieved: 17 November 2013).

Larry D. Woodard, “McDonald’s Ad: Food Photos Never What You Get,” ABC News, 21 June 2012, at http://abcnews.go.com/Business/mcdonalds-ad-food-photos/story?id=16621290 (retrieved: 26 June 2012).

“Don’t buy it: Get media smart!,” PBS Kids Go!, at http://pbskids.org/dontbuyit/advertisingtricks/foodadtricks.html (retrieved: 21 June 2012).

Joe Martino, “Ever Wonder About “Fresh Squeezed 100%” Orange Juice?” Collective Evolution, 9 November 2011, at http://www.collective-evolution.com/2011/11/09/ever-wonder-about-fresh-squeezed-100-orange-juice/ (retrieved: 20 February 2013).

Christopher Matthews, “Watch the Surprising TV Ad That Got Nissan Into Major Trouble,” Time, 24 January 2014, at http://business.time.com/2014/01/24/ftc-faults-nissan-for-misleading-ads/ (retrieved: 25 January 2014).

Related videos

“Behind the scenes at a McDonald’s photo shoot,” McDonaldsCanada video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8 (retrieved: 26 June 2012). (Watch it here)

“Monsanto Indian Farmer Suicide,” HuggLinton video at YouTube.com, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Av6dx9yNiCA (retrieved: 1 July 2012). (Watch it here)

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