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A lawsuit alleging that StarKist misleads consumers by paying to feature the American Heart Association's (AHA's) Heart-Check Mark will continue after a New York federal court refused to dismiss the complaint. Warner v. StarKist Co., No. 18-0406 (N.D.N.Y., entered March 25, 2019). The court refused to dismiss the plaintiff's allegation that the Heart-Check Mark materially misleads consumers—finding "StarKist’s failure to argue that the omission of language indicating it paid to place the Heart Check-Mark on its products would not mislead a reasonable consumer"—but noted that "this is a close call, which could be revisited at the summary judgment stage." The court dismissed the plaintiff's request for an injunction because it found "no 'real and immediate' threat of future injury" because the plaintiff's "own allegations indicate that he will not purchase or pay as much for the product going forward."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced an April 9, 2019, public meeting to receive comments on the United States' positions for the Codex Committee on Food Labelling meeting to be held in Canada in May 2019. Among the announced topics are (i) "Proposed draft Guidance for the Labelling of Non-Retail Containers"; (ii) "Proposed draft Guidelines of Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling"; (iii) "Innovation—use of technology in food labelling"; (iv) "Labelling of alcoholic beverages"; and (v) "Criteria for the definition of 'high in' nutritional descriptors for fats, sugars, and sodium."

The Nutrition Business Journal spoke to Shook Partner Cary Silverman on the rise of lawsuits stemming from "clean labels" listed on food products. While consumers may want easier-to-read labels, this shortened language may open the door to potential lawsuits. Silverman, who co-authored the 2017 report “The Food Court: Trends in Food and Beverage Class Action Litigation,” for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, says that transparency creates skepticism. “I can only imagine the internal battles within food companies between marketing and legal,” Silverman told NBJ. “I understand why a company would want information printed transparently on the front of the package, but on the other hand, there is a reason lawyers like fine print. When you remove the fine print from a label and go with the basics, it could be a plaintiffs’ lawyer’s dream.” Silverman’s report, which was co-authored with Shook Partner Jim Muehlberger, found that 20 food-marketing class actions…

Two consumers have alleged that National Beverage Corporation misleads buyers of LaCroix sparkling water because it advertises the products as “all natural” and “100% natural” while they contain flavors composed of “between 36% and 98% synthetic ingredients.” Graham v. Nat’l Beverage Corp., No. 19-0873 (S.D.N.Y., filed January 29, 2019). The complaint cites the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia, which uses “compound specific stable isotope analysis [] and gas chromatography isotope ratio mass spectrometry to generate multi-component, multi-element data for the enhanced characterization of organic chemical processes and source validation.” The plaintiffs seek class certification, injunctions, damages and attorney’s fees for alleged violations of New York consumer-protection law, unjust enrichment and breach of warranties.

A consumer has filed a putative class action alleging that Barlean’s Organic Oils misrepresents the health benefits of its coconut oils because “coconut oil is actually inherently unhealthy, and a less healthy option” when compared to “butter and various cooking oils.” Testone v. Barlean’s Organic Oils LLC, No. 19-0169 (S.D. Cal., filed January 24, 2019). The complaint asserts that coconut oil—“which is approximately 90 percent saturated fat”—increases the risk of cardiovascular heart disease and stroke, in contrast with representations on the Barlean’s website that its product is “Nature’s Most Versatile Superfood” that is “cold pressed fresh for your vibrant health.” The plaintiff alleges violations of California’s and New York’s consumer-protection statutes and seeks class certification, a corrective advertising campaign, restitution, damages and attorney’s fees.

A plaintiff has alleged that Food for Life Baking Co. Inc. misled consumers by advertising its cereal product, Ezekiel 4:9, as nutritionally superior to comparable cereal products because it is made with sprouted grains. Elliott v. Food for Life Baking Co. Inc., No. 19-0249 (E.D.N.Y., filed January 13, 2019). The complaint asserts that Ezekiel 4:9's labeling makes nutrient claims comparing its sprouted grains to non-sprouted grains without including "any reference food upon which the relative claims are based, which is misleading because there is no way to accurately evaluate the statements regarding the higher nutritional values of sprouted grains compared to non-sprouted grains." In addition, the complaint contests Ezekiel 4:9's assertion that the grains are a "living food" because "by the time the sprouted grain is dried, grounded into flour and heated, any nutritional benefits which may have existed have been extinguished." For allegations of fraud, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment,…

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Agricultural Marketing Service has released the final National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (NBFDS), which will require food manufacturers, importers and other entities to indicate on a product's label whether it was made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The rule applies to food products in which the predominant ingredient is subject to the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; "[a] multi-ingredient food product that contains broth, stock, water, or similar solution as the first ingredient, and a meat, poultry, or egg product as the second ingredient on the food label would also not be subject to the NBFDS," according to the announcement. The rule takes effect February 19, 2019, and mandatory compliance with the rule begins on January 1, 2022.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established January 1, 2022, as "the uniform compliance date for food labeling regulations that are published on or after January 1, 2019, and on or before December 31, 2020" to help "minimize the economic impact of label changes." The agency also issued technical amendments to the Nutrition Facts Label Final Rule that correct errors in sample labels and inadvertent omissions of preexisting provisions.

The Second Circuit has reversed a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging that Kellogg Co. misleads consumers by marketing its Cheez-Its as “made with whole grain.” Mantikas v. Kellogg Co., No. 17-2011 (2nd Cir., entered December 11, 2018). The lower court had agreed with Kellogg that the “made with whole grain” label was factually accurate and would not mislead reasonable consumers, and it dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. “Although the district court is correct that an allegedly misleading statement must be viewed ‘in light of its context on the product label or advertisement as a whole,’ [] the court misapplied that principle to Plaintiffs’ claims in this case,” the court held. “Plaintiffs’ core allegation is that the statements ‘Whole Grain’ and ‘Made With Whole Grain’ are misleading because they communicate to the reasonable consumer that the grain in the product is predominantly, if not entirely,…

A California federal court has denied a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Sanderson Farms Inc. misleads consumers about the presence of antibiotics in its chickens. Friends of the Earth v. Sanderson Farms Inc., No. 17-3592 (N.D. Cal., entered December 3, 2018). The plaintiffs—several advocacy groups—assert that Sanderson's marketing misleads consumers into believing that its chickens are raised without antibiotics, while Sanderson argues that its labeling, advertisements and website communicate to consumers that the chicken products they purchase do not contain antibiotics. "Sanderson argues its infographic on its '100% Natural' webpage contains only true statements: it shows what ingredients are not added to the chicken and says nothing about antibiotic use or nonuse," the court stated. "Defendant appears to make an expressio unius argument: that because antibiotics are not included in the list of excluded artificial ingredients, a reasonable consumer could not conclude that antibiotics are also excluded. As…

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