Posts By Shook, Hardy & Bacon L.L.P.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have requested changes to the interim final rule on hemp production. Wyden and Merkley, who co-wrote the legislation that legalized hemp farming, passed along feedback from Oregon farmers, researchers and regulators, according to a press release. The letter cites five key complaints: Testing within 15 days of harvest may be "an impossible obstacle for growers to overcome" because it is insufficient time, "particularly if there are a limited number of registered laboratories with sufficient expertise to perform the necessary tests"; The requirement to submit hemp to laboratories registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) could "cause tremendous bottlenecks and unnecessary delays," and the 2018 Farm Bill only granted USDA and the Food and Drug Administration "sole regulatory authority over hemp production"; "The interim final rule introduced a new requirement, contrary to the…

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to "adopt a policy of greater transparency with respect to the microbiological testing" that the agency collects from meat slaughter and processing establishments. The letter cites a Salmonella outbreak in ground beef announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and notes that investigators "have not identified a single, common supplier" for the affected meat. DeLauro and Gillibrand urge USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service to provide data on the samples it collects to "allow companies, government researchers and members of the scientific community to identify links between pathogenic strains" found in meat samples and in patients identified as affected by the Salmonella outbreak. The Congress members request answers to four questions before December 13, 2019, including an identification of which establishments had samples that resulted…

The French government has reportedly abandoned a campaign suggesting French people abstain from drinking alcohol during the month of January following pressure from wine producers. The plan was apparently inspired by a promotion launched by a U.K. advocacy group in 2013 that encourages alcohol abstinence during January and mindful alcohol consumption in the months that follow. The French health minister reportedly confirmed that discussion for a Dry January campaign would not be held until a ministerial health prevention committee meeting in February 2020.

A California federal court has granted summary judgment to The Hershey Co. in a lawsuit alleging that its Brookside chocolates are misleadingly labeled as made with "no artificial flavors" because they contain malic acid. Clark v. Hershey Co., No. 18-6113 (N.D. Cal., entered November 15, 2019). The court found that the named plaintiffs admitted in depositions that they did not rely on the contested label. One plaintiff "did suffer an injury as required by California law—he would not have purchased the Brookside products if he had known they contained artificial ingredients," the court noted. "However, his injury was not caused by the alleged mislabeling of the product, but rather his misunderstanding that the 'No Artificial Flavors' statement meant there were no artificial ingredients whatsoever in the product. Accordingly, regardless of defendant's alleged mislabeling, [the plaintiff] would have suffered the injury." A second and third plaintiff argued that they had relied…

A plaintiff has filed a putative class action alleging that Burger King Corp. represented its Impossible Whopper in association with the Impossible Burger, which is "well known as a meat-free and vegan meat alternative," but cooked the Impossible Whoppers "on the same grills as its traditional meat products, thus covering the outside of the Impossible Whopper's meat-free patties with meat by-product." Williams v. Burger King Corp., No. 19-24755 (S.D. Fla., filed November 18, 2019). Burger King advertised the Impossible Whopper as "100% Whopper" and "0% Beef," leading the plaintiff, a vegan, to rely "on Defendant's deceptive representations about the Impossible Whopper and believing that the 'Impossible' vegan meat patty would be prepared in a manner that maintained its qualities as a vegan (meat-free) burger patty." The plaintiff alleges breach of contract, unjust enrichment and violation of Florida's consumer-protection statute and seeks class certification, damages and a declaration "that Defendant be…

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging Whole Foods Market Group Inc. lists "organic dehydrated cane juice solids" as an ingredient in its 365 Everyday Value instant oatmeal rather than "sugar." Warren v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp. Inc., No. 19-6448 (E.D.N.Y., filed November 15, 2019). "Consumers expect ingredients on a product to be declared by their common or usual name," the complaint asserts. "Where an ingredient contains the term 'juice,' consumers expect that ingredient to be derived from a consumable fruit or vegetable." The plaintiff seeks class certification, injunctive relief, damages and attorney's fees for alleged negligent misrepresentation, fraud and breach of express warranty.

According to the New York Times, Australia and New Zealand are disputing over the rights to produce manuka honey, a honey product that sells for about $100 per 500 grams. New Zealand producers seek to establish a protected designation of origin for manuka honey, but Australian producers argue that their production process creates the same resulting product. The New Zealand version of the product is created by bees that pollinate the manuka bush, while the bees in Australia create the honey with the nectar of the manuka bush as well as dozens of species in the same genus. One New Zealand producer reportedly said that calling the Australian product manuka honey is like "generalizing all the almonds and apricots and calling them plums"; the Australians argue that the related bushes are "nearly indistinguishable" because the species developed when Australia and New Zealand were part of the same land mass 65…

Food & Water Watch Inc. (FWW) has filed a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has "engaged in dilatory and obstructionist tactics" to avoid fulfilling the organization's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on documents related to the establishment of the New Swine Inspection System (NSIS). Food & Water Watch Inc. v. USDA, No. 19-3362 (D.D.C., filed November 7, 2019). FWW argues that USDA has "actually or constructively and unlawfully denied" its requests for "data and other agency records justifying" the NSIS rules "that replace government inspectors with plant employees in performing certain crucial animal and carcass inspections." The complaint alleges that the defendants "have failed to disclose records responsive to close to half of the originally requested items; have repeatedly ignored attempts to clarify what they have released; have released inaccurate, non-responsive records; have forced FWW to jump over the procedural hurdle of submitting an additional…

Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. has agreed to pay $5.4 million to settle claims that it misleadingly advertised its beverages as lacking artificial flavors despite containing malic avid. Hilsley v. Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., No. 17-2335 (S.D. Cal., filed November 8, 2019). Under the agreement, the company will stop using the phrase "no artificial flavors" on its labeling or in other marketing materials within 12 months. Class members may receive $1 per bottle up to 20 bottles, and no proof of purchase will be required.

Two weeks after opening a comment period on an interim final rule on hemp farming, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has received more than 600 comments. The rule set limits for the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that can legally be produced by the crop, and farmers have reportedly told the agency that the limit is unmanageable. One issue is that the regulations do not acknowledge a difference between Delta-9 THC and THC-A, according to a former hemp farmer interviewed by Law360 who also reportedly said he had never seen a test result as low as the limit set by USDA. Another possible issue is that the crop must be tested by a laboratory registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which may reduce the number of qualified firms to a single laboratory. Comments on the interim final rule will be accepted until December 31.

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