Court Asks FDA to Decide Whether HFCS Is “Natural”
A federal court in New Jersey has reportedly stayed for six months consumer fraud litigation against the company that makes Arizona Iced Tea® beverages and has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine whether high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) qualifies as a “natural” ingredient. Coyle v. Hornell Brewing Co., No. 08-2797 (D.N.J., stay order entered June 15, 2010). Claiming that these beverages are deceptively marketed as “100% Natural” despite containing HFCS, the plaintiff alleges violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, unjust enrichment and common-law restitution, and breach of express and implied warranties.
The court issued the stay rather than dismiss the putative class action outright as requested by the defendants on the basis of the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. According to a news source, the court acknowledged that “categorizing HFCS as either natural or artificial for the purpose of food and beverage labeling does not fall within the conventional experiences of judges.” He also reportedly said, “Although Plaintiff contends that she is not asking the Court to define the term ‘natural,’ the entire claim—that Defendants improperly labeled their beverages as ‘100% NATURAL’ despite containing HFCS—rests on an initial determination of whether HFCS is a ‘natural’ substance. This question lies within the FDA’s particular field of expertise regarding food chemistry and the labeling of food and beverage products.” See New Jersey Law Journal, June 17, 2010; Mealey’s Food Liability, July 2, 2010.