According to a press release from CSPI, the on-package verbiage states "There's never been a more delicious way to cherry pick your antioxidant!" however the antioxidant claim is both misleading, since it gives the impression that the antioxidants come from the pictured healthful fruits, and illegal, since Food and Drug Administration regulations prohibit fortifying nutritionally worthless snack foods and beverages with nutrients.
"Non-diet varieties of 7UP, like other sugary drinks, promote obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and other serious health problems, and no amount of antioxidants could begin to reduce those risks," said Michael F. Jacobson CSPI’s executive director. "Adding an antioxidant to a soda is like adding menthol to a cigarette—neither does anything to make an unhealthy product healthy."
Despite the pictures of cherries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, and pomegranates on various 7UP labels, the drinks contain no fruit or juice of any kind. 7UP Cherry Antioxidant contains water, high-fructose corn syrup, citric acid, potassium benzoate, and the controversial dye Red 40. The Mixed Berry and Pomegranate varieties also contain Blue 1 dye. One 12-ounce serving contains nine teaspoons (38 grams) of sugars and 140 calories. The diet versions replace the high-fructose corn syrup with the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame potassium.
In all six products, the added antioxidant is a small amount of vitamin E in the form of vitamin E acetate or d-alpha tocopherol acetate. But the purported health benefits of antioxidants are suggested by studies involving the consumption of whole fruits and vegetables, not artificially fortified foods, according to CSPI.
Moreover, the FDA has a policy that states that the agency "does not consider it appropriate to fortify...snack foods such as candies and carbonated beverages." The FDA sent a warning letter to Coca-Cola for similar violations of that policy.
According to the lawsuit, the antioxidant claims violate several California laws, including its Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the Sherman Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Law, and several provisions of its Business and Professions Code related to fraudulent business practices and misleading advertising.
This isn't the first time that 7UP's labeling and marketing practices have attracted CSPI's attention. In 2006, CSPI threatened to sue to stop the company from calling 7UP "100% Natural" even though it contains factory-made high-fructose corn syrup. Cadbury Schweppes, then 7UP's parent company, soon dropped that claim though it now makes reference to the drinks' "100% natural flavors." In May, CSPI had privately contacted 7UP’s new parent company, Dr Pepper Snapple Group, over the issues surrounding the antioxidant claims, but the company has since refused to correct its labels.
Reducing soda consumption is increasingly a priority of public health officials. "High consumption of SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] has been associated with obesity...diabetes, elevated triglycerides, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, elevated uric acid levels, gout, and dental caries," according to a guide published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CSPI recently released The Real Bears, an animated short film that depicts a family of polar bears suffering from some of the adverse health effects of soda consumption.
"Every can or bottle of 7UP consumed brings one closer to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "So I look forward to having 7UP go under oath and testify before a judge or a jury that this disease-promoting sugar water is actually a source of healthy antioxidants."