Quaker Oats, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Market Value of Scientific Evidence 1984 to 2010


Contemporary consumers have become accustomed to nutrition labels in the 20 y since they were federally mandated. However, “health claim” labels that link nutrients to disease prevention have a contentious history involving regulators, corporations, and the public. The “oat bran craze” of the late 1980s demonstrated these claims’ enormous profit potential, but also the need for more rigorous regulation. In response, the 1990 Nutrition Labeling Education Act created quantitative nutrition labels and qualitative “health claims” to summarize medical knowledge about specific foods. Quaker Oats was granted the first food-specific health claim in January 1997 when the Food and Drug Administration determined that consumption of soluble fiber from oats lowered risk of heart disease. The company subsequently made the oat health claim a central part of its strategy and has served as a model for other manufacturers seeking health claims. This article examines the institutional interactions and underlying values that made health claims desirable, legally possible, and profitable from the 1980s onward.

In Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, IFT.