Last October, the Food and Drug Administration sent John King a stern letter warning him that he had committed “serious violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act,” that to continue to market his product he would need to file a “New Drug Application,” and that failure to comply might result in “seizure of violative products.”
What deadly product was King hawking? In a word, fruit. Or, as the letter stated in grave detail, “cherry juice concentrate and dried tart cherries.”
King owns a 300-acre family farm in Northern Michigan, where he grows a type of cherry noted for its high nutritional content. He also owns a Web site promoting those cherries, and the site points to a substantial body of scientific literature on the fruit’s health benefits. Much of the information is attributed to specific researchers and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Letters from enthusiastic customers, describing their cherry-infused health, are tagged as testimonials.
But the FDA says King, and dozens of other cherry farmers who received warning letters, can’t provide information about health benefits without official permission. The agency, which declined to comment on the precarious cherry situation, told farmers that Web sites for food products are labels, subject to the same rules as information on their packaging. And if the cherry farmers want to keep touting the health benefits of cherries, they’ll have to register the fruit as a drug. The agency sent a second letter of warning in July; meanwhile, King and other farmers have hired a D.C. lawyer to plead the case for fresh fruit.
Mike Berst, sales manager for King Orchards, notes that at least some of the information the FDA seeks to censor came from another organization local farmers are quite familiar with: the U.S. Department of Agriculture.