October 10, 1995
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EDT
From Reporter Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Parents who look for brand-name baby formula at the grocery store might pick up the real thing or, as some shoppers recently found, they could end up with a counterfeit. "Lately, it's just like when you take things off the shelf, you really never know what you're getting," one parent said.
Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration uncovered a variety of scams involving baby formula. In one case, generic formula was passed off as Similac brand to Californians such as Wendy Von Haesler and her child. "She just hated the bottle and I didn't really know why," Von Haesler said. In other instances, legitimate formula was bought at discount prices and resold for substantial profits. Nutritional products for the elderly such as "Ensure Plus" also were resold and relabeled, hiding, among other things, the fact that the product's expiration date had passed.
The FDA believes it has put a stop to those operations and that no one was harmed. The agency has issued an arrest warrant for Mohammed Mostafah, a baby formula distributor, and charged him with counterfeiting. But similar scams are likely, and officials are warning people to be watchful.
Deputy FDA Commissioner Mary Pendergast said that while it may be hard for parents to detect differences in a label, they can spot variations in the color and smell of a product. For example, with fake Similac, she said, a parent would open the can to find "a white powder with a small clear scoop. On the other hand, if they'd opened up the real product they would have seen an infant formula that was a yellow, creamy color with a much larger green scoop. And these would have been tip-offs that they weren't buying the formula they were used to buying."
The International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, a group representing many big brand-name products, said technology today makes it possible to copy not just Rolexes, but the labels for everything from Halls' cough drops (24K JPG image) to canned artichoke bottoms, as well. Fortunately, the group says U.S. Customs agents intercepted all of those products before they made their way to store shelves. "They were found in very unsanitary conditions. Some of them were unwrapped. Unknown levels of bacteria, unknown ingredients," said the Coalition's John Bliss.
In one case, phony Borden's Eagle brand labels were stuck on packages of almond bark candy (23K JPG image), a product Borden doesn't even make. In another case, some shoppers bought fake Head & Shoulders shampoo that was blue like the real thing, "but it didn't really quite smell like Head & Shoulders shampoo and (it) was actually a combination, it appears, of several shampoos," Pendergast said.
The FDA warns both stores and consumers to know who they're buying from. And if they suspect something is wrong, they should contact the maker or the FDA.
These sites are not necessarily endorsed by CNN Interactive
Copyright © 1995 Cable News Network, Inc.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.