Beverage or drug? The answer hinges on a marketer's claims.
We've been paying a lot more attention to health claims for foods and drinks lately.
But not as much as the Food and Drug Administration, which just told consumer products giant Unilever to knock it off already with some health claims for Lipton Green Tea 100% Natural, Naturally Decaffeinated.
The company's Lipton unit splashes the trademarked phrase "Tea Can Do That" liberally on the health sections of its websites. But the agency says in a warning letter that the way Lipton is talking up health benefits from tea on the Web is over the line for a product that's a food and not a drug.
For instance, on one Web page titled "Heart Health Research," Lipton says "[F]our recent studies in people at risk for coronary disease have shown a significant cholesterol lowering effect from tea or tea flavonoids...."
That sort of thing sounds like a drug, FDA says, so it told Lipton to drop the offending claims, or else.
The agency also criticizes Lipton for some of the food claims made for tea. Specifically, the company is playing fast and loose in its characterization of the antioxidant qualities of its tea.
We asked Unilever for comment. In an e-mail, a spokesman confirmed the company got the FDA's warning letter dated Aug. 23, 2010, and that it is "carefully reviewing the contents of the letter and committed to full compliance with the law."
Separately, the agency sent a similar letter to the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group criticizing the company for its marketing of Canada Dry Sparkling Green Tea Ginger Ale.
Aside from the validity of specific claims, there's a separate question about how much of the antioxidant stuff purported to be in bottled tea is even there. In a recent post we wrote about tests that showed most teas came up short on antioxidant content.