Federal Court Defers to FDA in Dispute over Labeling HFCS Drink as “All Natural”
According to a news source, a federal court in New Jersey has dismissed claims that the manufacturer of a beverage containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) deceived the public by promoting the product as “all natural.” The court apparently based its ruling on federal preemption, leaving it to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to define the terms “natural” and “all natural.” U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper reportedly stated, “This court will not determine that which the FDA, with all of its scientific expertise, has yet to determine, namely how the terms ‘natural’ and ‘all natural’ should be defined and whether either may be used on the label of a beverage containing HFCS. Instead, this court will allow the FDA, which has already set forth specific requirements for what must be included on beverage labels, to decide whether such a determination is necessary and warranted.”
The ruling specifically applies to Snapple® drinks and, according to an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), which has threatened similar litigation against Cadbury Schweppes and is backing such claims against Kraft, only those cases filed in New Jersey. CSPI’s director of litigation reportedly claimed, “I doubt that other courts will follow [the N.J. case], because it is very much on the bleeding edge of preemption law, far ahead of what the [U.S.] Supreme Court has said.” He was also quoted as saying, “we will keep suing companies outside New Jersey, so they should not take great comfort in having persuaded one judge.”
Other legal commentators suggest that the decision simply maintains the status quo. While the FDA has not defined “natural,” it does have a policy which provides that such products do not contain any artificial or synthetic substances of the type that would not normally be expected in food. An agency official reportedly responded to a specific request about HFCS by stating, “we would object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing HFCS.” That said, the FDA has not formalized this approach through a rulemaking or published industry guidance. See FoodUSAnavigator.com, June 19, 2008.