A New York federal court has granted in part and denied in part a motion
to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Hain Celestial’s Earth’s Best® food and
body-care products are deceivingly labeled as “organic,” finding that the
Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) does not preempt the plaintiffs’
claims. Segedie v. Hain Celestial Grp., No. 14-5029 (S.D.N.Y., order
entered May 7, 2015). The plaintiffs challenged 69 food products and 20
body-care products labeled “organic,” “natural” or “all natural,” arguing
that they contain ingredients inconsistent with the company’s claims.

In assessing precedent on preemption, the court found that a federal
agency’s approval of a label does not bar any challenge to that label. The
court also determined that the plaintiffs’ claims were legally sufficient
as to both the “organic” and “natural” challenges. Hain argued that
the ingredients in question were subject to an exemption under OFPA
because they were nutrient vitamins or minerals, but the court found
no evidence to support the argument and allowed the “organic” claim to
proceed.

Hain also argued that the plaintiffs failed to establish a definition of
“natural” upon which they based their claims, but the court disagreed,
finding that the pled definition was appropriate for the motion-todismiss
stage of litigation. “[I]t is enough that Plaintiffs allege that
‘natural’ communicates the absence of synthetic ingredients. [] Likewise,
the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s and Department of Agriculture’s] respective policies concerning ‘natural,’ while potentially relevant,
are not controlling,” the court said, ultimately allowing the claims to
continue. “To be clear, the Court is not establishing a rule of law that
foods labeled ‘natural’ may not contain synthetic ingredients—far from it.
The alleged presence of synthetic ingredients merely brings the claim of
deception into the realm of plausibility.” The court also dismissed several
claims, finding no support for the alleged breach of implied warranty,
fraudulent concealment or constructive fraud, but several remaining
claims were left intact.

Issue 565

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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