HBO’s John Oliver claimed on his show last night that cranberries “are nature’s most disgusting berry.” But it turns out Massachusetts cranberry juice producer Ocean Spray sent over 450 letters to the FDA arguing pretty much the same thing.
Last night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” had an in-depth look at an FDA proposal requiring food labels to list “added sugar” as a separate category from sugar. Besides the usual jokes about sugary candy, Oliver noted that Ocean Spray sent a letter to the FDA asking for an exemption for cranberry juice from the proposed labeling because it isn’t palatable without added sugar.
The entire clip is worth a look, but the section about Ocean Spray starts at around the 7:40 mark. In it, Oliver makes reference to an official letter to the FDA from Ocean Spray, asking for an exemption because “…cranberries… are naturally low in sugar, giving them a distinctly tart, astringent, and even unpalatable taste.” The agricultural cooperative also had 457 of its farmers send the FDA a form letter, which ended with this plea:
I urge you to maintain a total sugars listing on the Nutrition Facts Panel and make an exception for the cranberry, which requires sweetening for palatability, in order to avoid unintended negative consequences of this regulation to this healthy, native fruit and those who farm it.
To be fair, Oliver noted that numerous lobbying organizations including the National Yogurt Association and the National Frozen Pizza Institute sent complaints to the FDA as well, so the bog people of Ocean Spray aren’t alone. And the growers’ contention that cranberry’s unique health benefits shouldn’t be punished is a valid one — sort of a fancy way of saying that for a lot of consumers, just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
But cranberries are hardly the only food with health benefits, and Ocean Spray’s drinks have more than a spoonful of sugar — an 8 oz. serving of their 100% Juice Cranberry (No Sugar Added!) has 28 grams of sugar, or a little over five-and-a-half teaspoons.
Ultimately, it seems like Ocean Spray’s complaints are little more than sour grapes.