Tate & Lyle
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Big Cranberry Juice: We can stop UTIs. Science: Maybe.

Plagued by changing consumer preferences and growing foreign competition, US cranberry growers are betting their bogs … on urinary tract infections.

Juice sales have fallen flat. Producers grow more berries than Americans consume.

Against this backdrop, cranberry behemoth Ocean Spray has invested millions of dollars into research on the link between cranberries and UTIs — and is requesting regulatory permission to advertise that women get fewer UTIs when they drink cranberry juice.

The move has precipitated a showdown between industry-funded science and independent critics. Many experts dispute Ocean Spray’s claim that cranberries reduce urinary tract infections.

The labels could help beleaguered growers, they say, but would do little for UTI patients — or for consumer trust in America’s food-label system.

“These health claims are marketing ploys that mislead consumers,” said Bonnie Liebman, the nutrition director at the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest.

“All they do is sell products. That’s why companies use them.”

Ocean Spray insists that motivation doesn’t invalidate the company’s research.

A massive agricultural cooperative composed of 700 farms across five states, Canada and Chile, Ocean Spray has long dominated the production and processing of US cranberries, turning the niche, seasonal enterprise into a multibillion-dollar industry.

To do that, Ocean Spray has invented an array of cranberry products that include canned cranberry sauce, cranberry juice cocktail and the now-ubiquitous Craisin.

The cooperative has also invested heavily in health research on cranberries, with a particular focus on the age-old claim that cranberry juice can prevent or treat urinary tract infections.

Roughly half of all US women will contract a UTI at some point in their lifetime, according to the American Urological Association.

Clark Reinhard, Ocean Spray’s vice president of global innovation, says the cooperative’s research has consistently shown that daily cranberry consumption reduces the risk that a woman who has had a UTI will contract others in the future. (There is no evidence that cranberries treat UTIs, and Ocean Spray does not claim they do.)

The preventive effect has been attributed to a compound called proanthocyanidins, which prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract and occur naturally in the fruit.

In September 2017, Ocean Spray applied for permission to make that claim on its products, including a juice that will be specifically marketed as a health beverage.

“We’ve got evidence over a long period of time that there’s a solution [to UTIs],” Reinhard said. “And so we applied for [the label claim] because it was important for us to have that connection validated, and to show customers it was legitimate.”

But some leading researchers say the science on cranberries and UTIs is still unsettled. A 2012 Cochrane review of the available literature, conducted by a team of highly regarded independent researchers, concluded that “cranberry juice cannot currently be recommended for the prevention of UTIs.”

“I think the evidence is mixed and small at best,” said Ruth Jepson, the lead author of that paper. Asked by The Post to review Ocean Spray’s petition, Jepson added that she was “not convinced by the research.”

The confusion lies in the definition of a UTI, Jepson and other researchers said.

Ocean Spray has studied the preventive effects of cranberries largely in people with common UTI symptoms, such as painful or frequent urination. Independent researchers studied cranberries in people with both those symptoms and confirmed, bacterial infections, a higher standard…..

Washington Post: Read the full article

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