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Not called "chocolate" because does not meet F.D.A. definition of chocolate

On another table stand a group of newcomers to the Special K family, a brand that is evidently food's answer to "Law & Order," given the number of spinoffs it has generated. Ms. Bath hands over a package of Special K "chocolatey delight" pastry crisps in a shiny white wrapper. (They are not called "chocolate" because they don't meet an F.D.A. definition of chocolate.)

¶ One box that interests Professor Nestle looks pretty mundane. It's All-Bran, circa 1984, and on the back are some words of advice from the National Cancer Institute: "A growing body of evidence says high-fiber foods are important to good health. That's why a healthy diet includes high-fiber foods like bran cereals."

¶ "The F.D.A. read this and was apoplectic," she says. Health claims for food were a no-no at the time. If a food company wanted to boast that a product could fight any particular disease, the product was all but asking to be regulated like a drug.

¶ The Food and Drug Administration pushed back, but political appointees with a deregulatory bent in the Reagan-era Department of Health and Human Services sided with Kellogg, according to Professor Nestle. Health claims soon proliferated because, as the All-Bran example proved, they had an almost steroidal impact on sales.

¶ By 1989, "40 percent of all new food products -- and nearly $4 billion in food advertising -- contained a health message of one kind or another," Professor Nestle says in her book, "Food Politics."

¶Kellogg opened the Pandora's box on health claims," she says, leaning back in her chair. "The company systematically and deliberately undermined the F.D.A. And they did it very effectively."

In recent years, Kellogg health claims have prompted government investigations on two occasions. One was in 2009, when the company boasted that Frosted Mini-Wheats could improve the attentiveness of children; the other was a year later, when Rice Krispies were promoted as a way to "support your child's immunity." In both cases, the company dropped the claim and signed a settlement order agreeing to stick with the facts in the future.

A Kellogg spokesman, Kris Charles, said in an e-mail: "Kellogg has a long history of responsibly providing information to help consumers make informed choices.

When a Sugar High Isn't Enough
In a world with less time for cereal, the Kellogg team in Battle Creek, Mich., is leaping into new snack markets -- as reflected in its pending deal for Pringles.


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