Category Archives D.C. Circuit

A D.C. court has dismissed Bellion Spirits LLC's lawsuit aiming to compel the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to permit the company to market its products as containing "NTX, a proprietary blend of ingredients that they contend mitigates alcohol's damage to DNA." Bellion Spirits LLC v. United States, No. 17-2538 (D.D.C., entered August 1, 2019). TTB denied Bellion's application to make the health claims because it purportedly found inadequate substantiation after consulting with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Bellion filed suit, arguing that TTB could not work with FDA without express statutory authority. The court disagreed, finding that TTB has exclusive regulatory authority to make final decisions on alcohol, but nothing prohibits the agencies from consulting with each other. The court also dismissed Bellion's First Amendment argument, which maintained that its claims about NTX are true; the court noted that it must be deferential to…

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has alleged that Twinings North America Inc. misleads consumers by representing its tea products as "pure" and "natural" despite containing traces of pesticides. Organic Consumers Ass'n v. Twinings N. Am. Inc., No. 2019 CA 4412 (D.C. Super. Ct., filed July 5, 2019). The advocacy group alleges that "[t]ests conducted by an independent laboratory using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry revealed the presence of thiacloprid in the Green Tea at levels of up to 0.156 milligrams per kilogram" and argues that Twinings knowingly misrepresents its products as "pure" to appeal to consumers looking for pesticide-free products. For an alleged violation of the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act, OCA seeks an injunction, costs and attorney's fees.

Children's Health Defense, an organization founded and chaired by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., has filed a lawsuit alleging that Beech-Nut Nutrition Co. misrepresents its baby-food products as "100% natural" despite containing pesticide residues. Children's Health Def. v. Beech-Nut Nutrition Co., No. 2019 CA 4475 (D.C. Super. Ct., filed July 8, 2019). The organization alleges that Beech-Nut markets its products as "100% natural," which the company website apparently defines as "simple, all-natural ingredients from places that nurture their fruits and vegetables and care about their quality. We never use artificial preservatives—nobody really needs modified starch, salt or harsh spices, especially babies. … We're not a fan of pesticides; our internal standards are significantly stricter than federal requirements." The complaint asserts that an independent laboratory tested the products and found pesticide residues in several varieties. The organization alleges a cause of action under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act and…

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has filed an Administrative Procedure Act lawsuit seeking to compel the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to respond to the organization's petition urging the agency to regulate feces as an adulterant under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act. Physicians Comm. for Responsible Med. v. USDA, No. 19-1069 (D.D.C., filed April 16, 2019). Physicians Committee's 2013 petition "asserted that meat and chicken that is contaminated with feces regularly passes USDA inspection," according to the complaint. "The risk of fecal contamination has increased in the six years since the Physicians Committee petitioned USDA," the organization argues. Under the system implemented in 2014, one USDA inspector is assigned to a slaughter line, apparently correlating with higher failure rates for Salmonella—"a bacteria found in feces"—during inspections. "Despite the passage of six years, USDA has not shared its determinations regarding the actions requested by…

A D.C. court has granted summary judgment in favor of Hormel Foods Corp. in a lawsuit alleging that the company misleads consumers into believing that its products "are from animals that are humanely raised and not 'factory-farmed' and that its products do not contain preservatives or nitrites that are not from natural sources." Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Hormel Foods Corp., No. 2016 CA 004744 (D.C. Super. Ct., entered April 8, 2019). The court held that the Animal Legal Defense Fund's (ALDF's) claims were preempted, finding that applying the Washington, D.C., consumer-protection statute "to prohibit the use of terms that [the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)] approved would stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of Congress' purposes for consistent regulation of labeling meat and poultry products." "Federal law regulates labeling so that consumers can use labels as the authoritative source of information about a product's ingredients, and if a…

The Organic Consumers Association and Food & Water Watch Inc. have filed a lawsuit alleging that Pilgrim's Pride Corp. misrepresents the conditions in which it raises its chickens. Food & Water Watch Inc. v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp. (D.C. Super. Ct., filed February 4, 2019). The complaint alleges that "Pilgrim's Pride systematically raises, transports, and slaughters chickens in inhumane factory-farm conditions," including "the routine use of antibiotics," "crowding," "the use of toxic chemicals," "the use of artificially selected fast-growing, breast-heavy chicken breeds," and "the abuse of chickens by Pilgrim's Pride contractors and employees." The organizations focus on Pilgrim's Pride's representations that its chickens are fed "only natural ingredients" and are not fed "growth hormones of any kind" as well as its assertions that the company "strongly supports the humane treatment of animals." The advocacy groups allege that Pilgrim's Pride has violated the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act and seek…

Washington, D.C., brewery Atlas Brew Works has filed a First Amendment lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction alleging that the federal government's partial shutdown has violated its right to speak because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has stopped issuing label approvals, causing beer production to halt. Atlas Brew Works v. Whitaker, No. 19-0079 (D.D.C., filed January 15, 2019). The complaint asserts that Atlas "sits on 40 barrels of seasonal, perishable beer—an apricot-infused India pale ale known as The Precious One—that it cannot lawfully label for interstate sale in kegs, as scheduled, for lack of a [Certificate of Label Approval (COLA)]." The brewery alleges that its speech—through labels—is essential to its business because it "cannot sell, and no one will purchase, random unidentified liquids." Atlas argues that its First Amendment rights have been violated because "it cannot be denied the right to speak for lack of meeting an…

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has filed a lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to act on the organization's 2014 petition seeking certification for labeling claims about animal welfare and environmental stewardship during the meat and poultry production process. Animal Welfare Inst. v. USDA, No. 18-2621 (D.D.C., filed November 14, 2018). AWI's petition asserted that meat and poultry producers market food products as "humanely raised," made with "sustainable agricultural products," "raised in a stress free environment" and other similar claims despite allegedly exposing animals to "intensive confinement, barren and stressful housing conditions, and painful mutilations in order to increase production." AWI argues for the establishment of a certification program to verify marketing claims about animal welfare. According the complaint, USDA has not yet taken action on AWI's petition, allegedly resulting in an "unreasonable delay" in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act.

A D.C. court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging Deoleo USA Inc.'s "extra virgin" olive oil, finding that the plaintiff failed to state a claim. Fahey v. Deoleo USA Inc., No. 18-2047 (D.D.C., entered November 8, 2018). Deoleo settled a similar lawsuit in March 2018, and the plaintiff "apparently caught wind of this news," the court noted. "Six days after the settlement was publicized, he purchased a bottle of Bertolli EVOO … [and] filed suit some six weeks later." The court did not consider whether the plaintiff was bound by the terms of the settlement because it first found that the plaintiff failed to plead facts that could give rise to a right of relief. The plaintiff "marshals but one 'fact' to substantiate his claim that this defendant deceptively mislabeled the bottle of extra virgin olive [oil that the plaintiff] purchased in 2018: the results of a 2010 study on olive…

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) has announced the settlement of a lawsuit alleging Handsome Brook Farms mislabeled eggs as “Pasture Raised” despite being sourced from non-pasture producers or from producers not meeting standards for pasture-raised products. OCA noted that since the suit was filed, Handsome Brook's new management has developed internal audit processes and supply chain management to ensure compliance with American Humane Association standards for pasture-raised eggs. The settlement includes Handsome Brook’s agreement to participate in independent third-party auditing of its sales and purchase records for 18 months.

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