“When Aubert de Villaine received an anonymous note, in January 2010, threatening the destruction of his priceless heritage unless he paid a one-million-euro ransom, he thought it was a sick joke,” writes Maximillian Potter in this May 2011 Vanity Fair article chronicling “an unprecedented and decidedly un-French” plan to poison the world’s most famous vineyard, La Romanée-Conti. Considered the Holy Grail of Burgundy, the eponymous wines produced by this 4.46-acre, centuries-old vineyard currently sell for $6,455 per bottle, with 1945 vintages fetching upward of $38,000 per bottle. According to Potter, it was only a few months before a record-setting auction of Romanée-Conti that “word of the attack began seeping into the world beyond Burgundy,” which has since sought to keep the affair quiet. Potter traces the remarkable crime from early 2010, when vineyard owner de Villaine began receiving anonymous ransom demands in the mail, to the arrest of a career…

A Chicago public school that six years ago prohibited most homemade lunches has recently found itself in the media spotlight, with some parents publicly questioning the policy that Little Village Academy Principal Elsa Carmona has defended as more nutritious for children. The Chicago Tribune has reported that Carmona instituted the ban after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips. “While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments,” confirmed a Chicago Public Schools spokesperson. “In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom.” But some parents have faulted the school for providing unappetizing fare while bringing in more money from students forced to purchase lunch. Their complaints have since received national attention from groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), which called the…

Researchers presenting at the 2011 Experimental Biology conference in Washington, D.C., have reportedly claimed that stearidonic acid-enriched (SDA) soybean oil is “an effective source of long-chain polyunsaturated fat in foods,” and that soy genetically engineered to produce these omega-3 fats, commonly found in fish, could be on tables as early as 2012. The panel on SDA-enriched soy was evidently part of the meeting’s omega-3 symposium led by Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition and Public Health Dean Eileen Kennedy, who noted that the American diet is typically lacking two long-chain omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), in part because consumers are wary of methyl mercury warnings for seafood. “Against this backdrop, SDA-enriched soybean oil is very attractive,” Kennedy apparently told Science News. “Moreover, if and when SDA-enriched oil becomes available, it should cost less than fish-oil capsules (some of which have allegedly been found contaminated with pesticides, dioxins and…

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has launched a mobile application of its “Chemical Cuisine” glossary of food additives to bring safety ratings directly to consumers’ smart phones. The CSPI app provides a list of safe additives and flags those “that everybody should avoid, as well as a number of additives most people would do well to cut back on,” according to CSPI. “Shopping for groceries was a lot easier when more food came from farms, and not factories,” said CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson. “And the tens of thousands of packaged foods on supermarket shelves have a bewildering array of chemical food additives, designed to variously enhance the taste, texture, color, or shelf life of the product.” See CSPI Press Release, April 22, 2011.

Seeking a declaration about respective indemnity obligations, National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. has filed a complaint in a California federal court against several other insurance companies in a dispute stemming from a neurological injury allegedly caused by the mahi-mahi fish served in a fish burrito at a Rubio’s Restaurant. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa. v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 11-00755 (S.D. Cal., filed April 11, 2011). The injured consumer apparently seeks damages in excess of $7 million. The insurance defendants are allegedly defending the fish supplier and restaurant in the personal-injury action, and National Union claims that its policy provides excess insurance only and that the other carriers have a duty to indemnify the insureds first.

According to the Department of Justice, a Massachusetts-based fish packer has been convicted of several criminal charges for falsely labeling packages of frozen fish fillets. A federal jury in Boston found Stephen Delaney guilty of a felony violation of the Lacey Act for falsely labeling $8,000 worth of frozen pollock, a product of China, as more expensive cod loins, a product of Canada. The jury also convicted Delaney of one misdemeanor violation for misbranding food under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; he allegedly placed into interstate commerce $203,000 worth of Chinese frozen fish fillets falsely labeled as products of Canada, Holland, Namibia, and the United States. Evidence at trial apparently indicated that he also changed 4 oz. labels on some packages to 5 oz. labels. Delaney will be sentenced on June 8, 2011; he faces up to six years in jail and up to $350,000 in fines. See Department of…

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) has denied a request that five false advertising lawsuits pending in two federal district courts against The Quaker Oats Co. be consolidated for pretrial proceedings in Illinois. In re: Quaker Oats Trans-Fat Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., MDL No. 2230 (J.P.M.L., decided April 8, 2011). The putative class actions involve claims that the company advertises its Chewy Bars® as containing “0 grams trans fat” when they purportedly contain “dangerous amounts of artificial trans fat, a toxic product that causes cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and is banned in an increasing number of United States and foreign jurisdictions.” The JPML apparently determined that centralization would not “serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses or further the just and efficient conduct of this litigation.” The panel noted that four of the pending actions were filed in one district court in California and were already underway.…

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that the owner of peach and pear orchards in Oregon violated the law by crediting its seasonal workers’ housing costs toward their minimum wage and by paying them the day after their last workday. Bobadilla-German v. Bear Creek Orchards, Inc., Nos. 10-35205, 10-35268 (9th Cir., decided April 12, 2011). The owner recruited several hundred seasonal farm workers in Arizona for the month-long harvest in 2004-2006 and offered them optional on-site housing and meals. The company charged $5-$7 a day for housing and deducted that amount from workers’ paychecks, crediting it toward their minimum wage. “In many instances, if housing costs were not credited toward the workers’ minimum wage, their wage would have been below the lawful minimum wage.” The workers generally received their final paychecks on the day following their last day of work. A class of workers sued the company, alleging…

A federal court in California has determined that some putative class claims can proceed against a company that allegedly makes false and misleading statements about its guacamole and spicy bean dip products. Henderson v. Gruma Corp., No. 10-04173 (C.D. Cal., decided April 11, 2011). The plaintiffs’ first amended complaint alleged five causes of action for violations of the state’s unfair competition and false advertising laws and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act. They claimed that the statements “0 g trans fat,” “with garden vegetables,” made in “the authentic tradition,” “0 g cholesterol,” and “all natural,” as to either or both products were false and misleading. The court first determined that the named plaintiffs, including a woman who recently brought and voluntarily dismissed similar claims against Hostess Brands, Inc., adequately alleged injury-in-fact to establish standing under Proposition 64. They alleged that they (i) “paid more for Mission Guacamole and Mission Bean Dip,…

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) has issued an order that will require all city departments to take steps to stop “the sale, advertising, and promotion of sugary beverages on City-owned property.” The mayor is apparently concerned about setting an example in a community with high obesity rates that he attributes in part to the consumption of sweetened beverages. Under the executive order, only certain types of beverages will be sold in city cafeterias and vending machines and at city concession stands, or served during meetings, city-run programs and events catered with city funds. After a six-month grace period, city buildings and departments must phase out the sale of “red” beverages, that is, “those loaded with sugar, such as non-diet sodas, pre-sweetened ice teas, refrigerated coffee drinks, energy drinks, juice drinks with added sugar and sports drinks.” The promotion of such beverages will be prohibited. “Green” beverages can continue to be…

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