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The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that would reduce nutrition- and calorie-labeling requirements on menus and bar civil liability for any restaurant or retail food establishment accused of violating the law’s requirements. The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act would allow restaurants to use average calorie counts or ranges on menus instead of exact counts and would permit online-only calorie disclosures. The bill would permit “reasonable-basis” disclosures that allow for variations in serving sizes, human error in preparation or variations in ingredients. It would also allow restaurants to decide whether to disclose content for a whole item or on a per-serving basis.

Bumble Bee Foods LLC has agreed to settle a proposed class action alleging the company’s labels indicate its Medium Red Smoked Salmon Fillet in Oil product contains wild-caught smoked salmon despite actually containing farm-raised salmon with artificial smoke flavoring. Rodriguez v. Bumble Bee Foods LLC, No. 17-2447 (S.D. Cal., motion for settlement filed February 1, 2018). Under the terms of the agreement, Bumble Bee will begin repackaging the product in the second quarter of 2018, specify the salmon is “smoke-flavored,” omit claims that it is “premium” or “medium red” and omit images that suggest the fish was wild-caught. The motion for settlement seeks a hearing date for a motion that will specify the incentive award, the amount of attorney’s fees, and costs.

A New Jersey federal court has denied class certification to a group of consumers alleging that Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice was mislabeled and misbranded because the maker adds natural flavoring to the product in violation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's standard of identity for pasteurized orange juice. In re Tropicana Orange Juice Mktg. & Sales Practices Litig., No. 11-7382 (D.N.J., entered January 22, 2018). The court ruled that the plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment, express warranty and New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act claims required individualized proof; thus, individual issues predominated over those of the class. In addition, the plaintiffs were unable to demonstrate that the proposed class was ascertainable—in particular, the court found, it was unclear whether any of the “dozens, if not hundreds of retailers” could confirm with certainty whether they possessed consumer data for the class period. If a consumer purchased the juice from a retailer that…

A consumer has filed a lawsuit alleging Schwan's Co. falsely advertises Mrs. Smith's Original Flaky Crust Pies as made with “real butter” despite allegedly containing a vegetable and butter shortening blend. Leguette v. Schwan’s Co., No. 17-7599 (E.D.N.Y., filed December 31, 2017). The plaintiff alleges that she bought a Mrs. Smith's apple pie because the package prominently displayed the statements “Made With Real Butter,” “No Artificial Sweeteners, Dyes or Flavors” and "No High Fructose Corn Syrup.” The Nutrition Facts panel disclosed that the product contains a “Shortening Butter Blend (Palm Oil, Butter [Cream, Salt])” and corn syrup. Claiming violations of New York’s General Business Law, breach of warranties and unjust enrichment, the plaintiff seeks class certification, injunctive relief, damages and attorney’s fees.

A federal court has dismissed a lawsuit alleging Earth’s Best falsely labels its infant and toddler foods as organic, asserting that the foods contain at least 29 ingredients not permitted to be labeled as such under the Organic Food Production Act of 1990 (OFPA). Organic Consumers Ass’n v. Hain Celestial Grp., Inc., No. 16-0925 (D.D.C., entered January 3, 2018). Although the court found the plaintiff advocacy group had standing to sue because it expended resources to challenge Hain Celestial’s labeling practices, it determined that the plaintiff’s claims were preempted by the OFPA. The court found that “in enacting the OFPA, Congress could not have been clearer about its purposes” to establish national standards for organically produced products, ensure organic products met a consistent standard and facilitate interstate commerce of organic foods. The plaintiff’s lawsuit, the court held, was premised on an allegation that Hain Celestial violated District of Columbia law by mislabeling…

Utz Quality Foods Inc. has agreed to pay $1.25 million to settle a putative class action alleging that some products were labeled “natural” despite containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic ingredients. DiFrancesco v. Utz Quality Foods, Inc., 14-14744 (D. Mass., settlement agreement filed December 6, 2017). The complaint alleged the snacks contained GMO grains and synthetic ingredients such as caramel color, malic acid and citric acid. Class members will receive $2 for each qualifying purchase up to a total of $20 and residual funds will be paid to nonprofit group Consumers Union. Utz has also agreed to stop using the terms “natural” and “all natural” on labeling and advertising of the products.

A plaintiff has filed a lawsuit alleging Bumble Bee Foods’ Medium Red Smoked Salmon Fillet in Oil is neither medium red wild coho salmon nor smoked. Rodriguez v. Bumble Bee Foods Inc., No. 17-2447 (S.D. Cal., filed December 6, 2017). The complaint asserts that the term “medium red” is commonly used to describe wild coho salmon, which is often fished in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and that the product label shows an image of a salmon “jumping from water with snow-capped mountains and evergreens in background, which is evocative of Alaska.” The salmon used in Bumble Bee’s product, the plaintiff argues, is “low-quality” farm-raised Chilean coho salmon dyed red to resemble wild-caught fish. The complaint alleges Bumble Bee discloses that the company’s oyster and smoked trout products are farm-raised but omits the farm-raised disclosure on the salmon product. In addition, the complaint alleges the salmon is not smoked but rather…

A New York federal court has dismissed a false labeling suit against Dannon Co., finding "no legal support for the idea that a cow that eats [genetically modified organism (GMO)] feed or is subjected to hormones or various animal husbandry practices produces ‘unnatural’ products.” Podpeskar v. Dannon Co. Inc., No. 16-8478 (S.D.N.Y., entered December 3, 2017). The proposed class action alleged that Dannon falsely labeled 12 varieties of yogurt products as “natural” despite being produced with milk from cows raised on GMO feed. The court noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing regulatory standards for the use of "natural,” but federal law does not require the products of animals fed GMOs must be labeled as containing GMOs. The plaintiff’s arguments were conclusory and “based on her own feelings,” the court noted, and the complaint did not allege that ­any ingredient used in the product is unnatural.

A federal court in New York has given final approval to the settlement of multidistrict litigation that alleged Frito-Lay North America, Inc. deceptively labeled and marketed its chip and dip products as “Made with All Natural Ingredients” when the products contained genetically modified ingredients. Frito-Lay N. Am., Inc., “All Natural” Litig., No. 12-MD-2413 (E.D.N.Y., entered November 14, 2017). Frito-Lay has agreed to modify its product labeling. While the class will not receive damages apart from $17,500 to class representatives, plaintiff's counsel will receive $1.9 million plus reimbursement of expenses up to $200,000.

Several Democratic senators, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging Secretary Sonny Perdue to prioritize “consumer-friendly solutions” as the Agricultural Marketing Service undertakes a rulemaking process on the labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “All Americans have the right to know what is in their food and how their food is produced,” the group argues. The letter asks Perdue to “consider, and work to address, the obstacles Americans would face while attempting to access GE ingredient information through digital or electronic disclosures,” noting that about one-quarter of American adults do not own a smartphone, which would allow them to scan QR codes on packaging to access ingredient information.

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