Soda vs. the Jelly Bean Rule

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Cadbury Schweppes' new calcium-enriched 7 Up Plus has really shaken up the soda market.

Until now, soda companies have been under pressure not to add nutrients to sodas because of the FDA's so-called "Jelly Bean Rule," which forbids health claims on low-nutrient foods and drinks. The rule doesn't forbid fortification, but it has had that effect.

The new 7 Up, which seems to get around the rule by not making any specific health claims, as well as by adding a bit of fruit juice to the soda, may open a whole new market. 7 Up Plus shatters the "good food/bad food" false dichotomy buttressed by the Jelly Bean Rule and preached by "food police" activists. Before 7 Up Plus, activists such as Michael Jacobson at the Center for Science in the Public Interest railed against soda pop as "liquid candy." Calls for bans on soda in school have gained in popularity. And in New York City schools, as part of an effort to fight obesity, even Diet Coke was banned from schools (only to be replaced with high sugar fruit juices.) But adding nutrients to soda takes the fizz out of the "liquid candy" argument.

Those who argue against fortifying fun but non-nutrient-rich foods with important nutrients have it all wrong. They won't tolerate less than "perfect" choices for consumers who don't get adequate amounts of calcium in their diets -- especially teenagers. This is a counterproductive attitude.

Certainly, we should redouble our efforts to educate consumers about overall good dietary habits, but until those efforts are fully effective, fortified sodas -- and yes, even candies, if marketed under a reasonable regulatory framework -- can be a positive development.

As long as large sections of society (teenage girls, for instance) are not getting enough calcium, and as long as those very same consumers are already drinking sodas, why not provide them the choice of drinking a more nutrient-rich soft drink?

Jeff Stier is Associate Director of the American Council on Science and Health.