The Food and Drug Administration is constitutionally required to treat foods and dietary supplements equally when it comes to rules governing qualified disease prevention claims, the Grocery Manufacturers of America said today.

GMA said that conventional foods should not be restricted from making qualified claims that can be made for dietary supplements because consumers can benefit from increased information about the link between food and health.

In a petition filed this week, GMA told the FDA to prepare for a court challenge if it does not reverse its stance on how it implements the Pearson v. Shalala decision. In Pearson, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia ruled that the FDA's restrictive policy on food disease prevention claims was a violation of the First Amendment.

Although that particular decision involved four disease claims for dietary supplements, James Skiles, GMA vice president and general counsel, said the decision applies to all food.

"FDA's continued preference to read the First Amendment protections narrowly to the facts of the Pearson case is a misreading of the case law," said Skiles. "Nothing in the Pearson decision limits the impact of the court's analysis to dietary supplements."

"If FDA refuses to recognize the interpretation of the Pearson v. Shalala decision, GMA is fully prepared to move forward with a court challenge to protect the industry's First Amendment rights," concluded Skiles.

The four qualified disease prevention claims approved for dietary supplements involve the following relationships; folate and neural tube defects; omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease; and folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, and vascular disease.

A copy of the petition is available at www.gmabrands.com