Federal Trade Commission Chairman Timothy J. Muris said the settlement should be a signal that the commission will not tolerate "misleading advertisements" to weight-conscious consumers.
"For consumers to obtain healthier choices, we must make sure that companies promote their products honestly," Muris said.
The settlement stems from a pair of ads KFC pulled off the air in November saying fried chicken was compatible with low carbohydrate diets and healthier than eating a Burger King Whopper. The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a letter with the FTC calling the ads deceptive and asking for "prompt enforcement action."
KFC spokeswoman Bonnie Warschauer said the company believes its ads to be "truthful and factually accurate," but settled the case without admitting any wrongdoing. Warschauer said the ads will not be shown again.
"We're sorry if anyone may have misinterpreted these two ads which ran last November - that was never our intent," Warschauer said in a written statement.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, applauded the FTC action, but said it came too late given that the ads haven't aired in eight months. Jacobson also criticized the FTC for failing to fine KFC for "egregiously misleading ads."
"It stops the company from running ads it already stopped. That's not much of a deterrent," Jacobson said. "There's no real cost other than the lawyers' fees involved."
FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour said in a separate statement that the regulatory agency should have sought monetary damages against KFC.
"Companies should not be allowed to benefit monetarily from this kind of deception, especially where the health and safety of consumers are compromised," she said. KFC "is fully aware of our nation's struggle with obesity, yet has cynically attempted to exploit a massive health problem through deceptive advertising."
The settlement, which is in effect for 20 years, prohibits KFC from claiming that eating its fried chicken is better for a consumer's health than eating a Burger King Whopper, or that its fried chicken is compatible with "low-carbohydrate" weight-loss programs, unless it substantiates the claim with competent and reliable evidence, including scientific evidence when appropriate.
The settlement also prohibits KFC from making any other claim about the amount of fat or other nutrients in its chicken products; the compatibility of its chicken products with any weight-loss program; or any other health benefit, unless the company substantiates the claim with competent and reliable evidence, including scientific evidence when appropriate.
The settlement includes provisions allowing KFC to make claims that comply with specific Food and Drug Administration food-labeling regulations. KFC must make available to the FTC copies of ads, as well as any documentation supporting and contradicting the claims made in the promotion.
By Brett Barrouquere