Pfizer trimming health claims on Centrum

Whether Pfizer ($PFE) is bowing to pressure from a public interest group or ducking for cover for questionable advertising, it says it has decided within the next month to remove some health claims from its Centrum multivitamin supplements.

The company in a statement said it "disagrees" with the concerns raised by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, (CSPI) but is changing some of the health claims to resolve the matter, Reuters reports.

The non-profit group threatened to sue the company if it didn't remove claims from the labels of various Centrum products that say they support "energy and immunity," "heart health", "eye health," "breast health, "bone health" and "colon health." The organization sent a letter to Pfizer Chief Executive Ian Read in April asking for the label changes.

Pfizer says it will take out the claims about breast health and colon health and change the wording on heart health and energy. The nonprofit group had earlier complained to the company about the claims that Centrum was beneficial to eyes and bones, but Stephen Gardner, the group's director, said dropping the issue once Pfizer agreed to withdraw the breast and colon cancer claims was worth the deal. "A settlement is, by its nature, something where neither side gets all it wants," he told Reuters.

CSPI and other public advocacy groups have been at the forefront of these kinds of fights since the FDA has very little authority when it comes to the supplements market. Reuters points out that the Government Accountability Office has suggested the FDA be given more leverage to regulate them, but the industry has so far been successful in beating back any attempts to give the FDA more say over its business.

Pfizer picked up the Centrum franchise three years ago in its acquisition of Wyeth. When Pfizer decided to review all its operations early last year, some industry watchers expected the consumer health unit to be among the businesses sold or spun off. There was interest from competitors, but instead the company announced in July that it would divest its animal health and nutrition units--but hold onto consumer health. In February, it added to the group when it bought for an undisclosed amount the company that makes Emergen-C, those ubiquitous vitamin C packets that sell for some $10 a box. The consumer health unit produces about $1 billion in sales each year. 

- read the Reuters story

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