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Hawaii will share in $21 million Dannon yogurt settlement

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The makers of Dannon yogurt and Dan Active drinks will pay $21 million to Hawaii and 38 other states to settle an investigation into claims that its products can help ward off colds and help with irregularity.

Hawaii will get $425,000 as its share of the settlement to resolve deceptive-advertising complaints, said Stephen H. Levins, executive director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection. "The money will be used for consumer protection purposes."

The settlement follows a coordinated investigation with the Federal Trade Commission, which announced a separate settlement.  

This case, led by attorney generals in Oregon and Tennessee, represents the largest attorney general consumer protection multi-state settlement ever reached with a food producer.

The two lead states will receive $1.06 million under the agreement and the remainder of the money will be divided among the other states.

Dannon also agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising and drop claims that allegedly exaggerated the health benefits of its Activia yogurt and DanActive dairy drink. These two popular Dannon products contain beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. Dannon will stop claiming that one daily serving of Activia relieves irregularity, and that DanActive helps people avoid catching colds or the flu.

The FTC said Dannon advertising for the products was deceptive because it lacked scientific backing.

"These types of misleading claims are enough to give consumers indigestion," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "Companies like Dannon shouldn’t exaggerate the strength of scientific support for their products."

Both products contain a beneficial bacteria called probiotics. Dannon has been accused before of overstating its effects, agreeing last year to pay $35 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging false advertising claims.  Less than $1 million of a $35 million fund established in the case was paid out.

In one television spot, actress Jamie Lee Curtis, sitting on a couch and holding a newspaper, reassures viewers that Activia can help with irregularity. In a DanActive ad, a yellow shield representing the drinks’ protective properties covers a boy as he runs out of a house.

The agreement would require Dannon to mention in Activia ads that the statements about the yogurt’s effect on regularity are backed by studies in which subjects received three daily servings, said Michael Neuwirth, a spokesman for the White Plains, New York-based company.

Neuwirth denied that Dannon had done anything wrong in the DanActive advertisements.

"Millions of people firmly believe in, benefit from and enjoy these products, and Dannon will continue to research, educate and communicate about the benefits of probiotics on the digestive and immune systems," the company said in a statement.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this story.

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