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For decades, “on the basis of concerns from the American Heart Association and consumer groups, the Federal Trade Commission carried out successful legal action—upheld by the Supreme Court—to compel the egg industry to cease and desist from false and misleading advertising that eggs had no harmful effects on health.”
See, “[a]nti-cholesterol attacks on eggs…resulted in severe economic loss…through a reduction in egg consumption.” So, the egg industry created a National Commission on Egg Nutrition “to combat the anti-cholesterol, anti-egg publicity” with ads like this, exclaiming, “There is…no scientific evidence whatsoever that eating eggs in any way increases the risk of heart attack”—which the U.S. Court of Appeals found “patently false and misleading.”
Even the tobacco industry wasn’t that brazen—instead, just trying to introduce the element of doubt, arguing that the relationship between smoking and health remains an open question. The egg ads made seven claims, each of which, in truth and in fact, was determined to be [bleep].
The Court determined the egg industry ads “were and are, false, misleading, [and] deceptive.” In fact, legal scholars view what the tobacco industry tried to do as the same as what the American Egg Board’s National Commission on Egg Nutrition tried to do. As with the egg ads, the tobacco industry did “more than just espouse one side of a genuine controversy,” but just denied “the existence of scientific evidence.”
Over the last 36 years, the American Egg Board has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to convince people eggs are not going to kill them—and, it’s working. “In combination with aggressive nutrition[al] science and public relations efforts, research shows that the advertising has been effective in decreasing consumers’ concerns over eggs and cholesterol/heart health.” This is from their internal strategy documents I got a hold of.
Currently, they’re targeting moms. Their approach is to “[s]urround moms wherever they are.” They pay “integration fees” for egg product placement in TV shows. To integrate eggs into The Biggest Loser, for example, could be a million dollars. But getting some kids’ “Storytime/Reading program” to integrate eggs may only take half a million, though. The American Egg Board keeps track of who is and is not a “friend-of-eggs.” They pay scientists $1,500 to sit and answer questions like “What studies can help disassociate eggs from [cardiovascular disease]?”
From the beginning, their arch nemesis was the American Heart Association, over which they fought a major battle over cholesterol. In documents retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act, we see even the USDA repeatedly chastising the egg industry for misrepresenting the American Heart Association position.
In a draft letter to magazine editors, the egg industry tried to say that the “American Heart Association changed its recommendations to approve an egg a day [in 2000] and eventually eliminated its number restrictions on eggs [in 2002]”—to which the head of USDA’s poultry research and promotion programs had to explain, “The ‘change’ in 2000 wasn’t a change at all; nothing in the guidelines or recommendations was changed.”
What happened is that “in response to a question posed by [someone planted in] the audience, [Heart Association] reps acknowledged that” even though eggs are the most concentrated source of cholesterol in the diet, since an individual egg has less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol, technically, an egg could fit under the 300 milligram daily limit. And, in 2002, they just eliminated the specific mention of eggs, for consistency’s sake. But, the American Heart Association insists that they haven’t changed their position, and continue to warn consumers about eggs.
Here’s from the AHA website at the time. You know, if one egg has 213, and the limit of dietary cholesterol intake for people with normal cholesterol is 300, you could fit in an egg—if you cut down on all other animal products, right? You could have an egg for breakfast, and then, if you add some coffee, some skinless turkey breast, etc.—you could end up 510, right? Nearly twice the recommended limit. So, if you’re going to eat an egg, you need to substitute vegetables for some of the meat, you drink your coffee black, and watch for hidden eggs in baked goods. And, the limit for folks with high cholesterol is 200 milligrams a day, which may not even allow a single egg a day.
This is how the senior director of nutrition education at the American Egg Board’s Egg Nutrition Center characterized the American Heart Association guidelines: “Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but this reads like: if you insist on having those deadly high cholesterol eggs your penalty will be to eat vegetables and you can’t even have [that] yummy steak and creamy coffee you love. Really it’s not worth eating eggs. Oh, and if you think you’ll be able to enjoy some delicious baked goods, forget it, the deadly eggs are there too!”
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