The lawsuit, fielded by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), implicates Kraft, General Mills and Dannon in a "deceptive" multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that claims milk can facilitate weight loss.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) also filed charges against three main dairy industry trade groups - the International Dairy Foods Association, National Dairy Council, and Dairy Management - claiming that they are misleading consumers with deceptive advertising that makes scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the effect of dairy products on weight-loss.
"To stem declining sales and boost their bottom line, the dairy industry is duping overweight Americans into believing that milk and other dairy are the magic bullet to weight control," said Dan Kinburn, PCRM senior legal counsel.
"We are serving notice with these lawsuits that we will not continue to let these false health claims go unchallenged."
However, the food industry-supported Center for Consumer Freedom believes that the group is deliberately misleading consumers and has animal rights motivations.
"PCRM is an animal rights group that opposes the sale of all food derived from animals," claimed the Center for Consumer Freedom in a press release.
The center goes on to claim that less than five percent of the group's members are physicians, and that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has already steered more than $1.3 million to PCRM.
"Despite its name, this Physicians Committee is not a legitimate health charity," said Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom.
"PCRM is made up of activists whose constant demands for a milk-free America are rooted in an animal-rights philosophy, not in concern for Americans' health. If PCRM is truly interested in truth-in-advertising, it should advertise itself as an animal-rights group that is '95-percent doctor- free.'"
But PCRM claims that the issue at hand is the weight-loss campaign, which is erroneous and based solely on two small-scale studies using questionable methodology.
"The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence confirms that dairy products either cause weight gain or, at best, have no effect on weight whatsoever," said Amy Lanou, PCRM senior nutrition scientist. "Since 1989 there have been 35 clinical trials that have explored the relationship between dairy products and/or calcium supplements and body weight.
Thirty-one found no relation; two indicated that milk and other dairy products actually contributed to weight gain."
Indeed, a recent study carried out by scientists from Purdue University concluded that increased consumption of dairy calcium was not associated with reduced weight and fat mass, as had been suggested by previous results.
The researchers came to this conclusion after following 155 women aged 18-30 for one year. They found that those who ate the most dairy - the equivalent of three to four glasses of milk per day - were no more likely to gain or lose weight than people who took in no more than the equivalent of one glass of milk per day.
PCRM said it filed the suits on behalf of Catherine Holmes, a Virginia resident, who it claims relied on these false claims and actually gained weight while following recommendations contained in a series of dairy weight-loss ads. The suits - one for money damages, the other a class-action suit seeking injunctive relief - were filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in Virginia.
PCRM filed petitions with both the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission earlier this year, calling for a halt to the dairy weight-loss campaign. The Center for Consumer Freedom remains confident that this latest case will be thrown out.