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The Canadian government has reportedly filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), challenging the U.S. country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. According to a news source, Canada alleges that COOL will impose unnecessary costs on meatpackers that use Canadian livestock and could lead to additional and more stringent labeling requirements in other countries. Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day was quoted as saying, “We believe that the country-of-origin legislation is creating undue trade restrictions to the detriment of Canadian exporters.” The complaint initiates a consultation period, which, if unsuccessful, could lead to resolution by a WTO dispute settlement panel. Canadian beef and pork producers recently called on the government to institute such action; further details about their concerns appear in issue 281 of this Update. See Meatingplace.com, December 2, 2008.

According to a press report, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused the request of Whole Foods Market, Inc. that the court reconsider, en banc, a July 2008 decision by a three-judge appellate court panel reviving the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust challenge to the company’s merger with Wild Oats Markets, Inc. More information about the panel’s divided ruling appears in issue 269 of this Update. The commission will conduct administrative hearings on the merger in February 2009. While the merger was completed in August 2007, the commission could apparently try to stop further integration of the companies’ operations or require Whole Foods to sell some properties. In a statement, Whole Foods reportedly indicated its intent to vigorously defend the administrative proceedings, “even though we believe it is an unfair process and a violation of the company’s due process rights.” See Dow Jones Newswires, November 21, 2008. Meanwhile, a Chicago…

The Philadelphia City Council this week adopted menu labeling laws that will require chain restaurants with more than 15 outlets to provide extensive nutritional information on printed menus and to list calories on menu boards. Starting January 1, 2010, national and local chains must disclose calories, saturated and trans fats, sodium, and carbohydrates on printed menus in the same typeface used for food descriptions and price. Opposed by the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association for its “one-size-fits-all” approach, the regulation also drew criticism from some council members who viewed the bill as an unnecessary burden on the restaurants. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, however, praised the new rules as a “useful incentive to the restaurant industry to expand the number and variety of healthy choices on their menus.” See CSPI Press Release, November 6, 2008; Philadelphia Inquirer, November 7, 2008; Meatingplace.com, November 10, 2008. In a related development, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported…

Several of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies have reportedly agreed to market their products under a common nutritional standard and logo designed to lessen consumer confusion at the supermarket. The “Smart Choices Program” allows participating manufacturers to display a “check mark” logo alongside calorie and serving size information on the front of products that meet specific nutritional thresholds set by a coalition of scientists, retailers and industry experts and based on federal dietary recommendations. These products cannot exceed the program’s limits for total fats, saturated fats, added sugars, or sodium. In addition, they must contain several “nutrients to encourage” that include calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Fruits and vegetables, whole grain, and low- or no-fat dairy products are also eligible for the marketing claim. “It’s simple, it’s easy-to-use, it’s consensus based, it’s science based,” said one spokesperson for Unilever PLC. “We would hope…

A federal court in Ohio has dismissed the putative class action claims filed by a woman who alleged that Kroger Co. deceived the public by selling its beef as aged, when it was actually selling beef packaged and shipped almost immediately after slaughter. St. Clair v. Kroger Co., No. 7-03798 (N.D. Ohio, decided October 14, 2008). The case was originally filed in state court and removed on defendant’s motion under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 (CAFA). Because the plaintiff failed to allege that Kroger had prior notice that its conduct was “deceptive or unconscionable,” the court was compelled under Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA) to dismiss the class claims. Prior notice, under the law, must be “in the form of a rule adopted by the state Attorney General or a judicial decision made publicly available,” neither of which was referred to in the complaint So ruling, the…

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is seeking comments on policies that regulate whether processors can use animal raising claims in labeling for meat and poultry products. “[R]ecent experience with labeling claims related to the raising of poultry have led FSIS to initiate a review of its evaluation and approval process for labels of meat and poultry products that contain animal raising claims,” stated the agency in a recent Federal Register notice. Animal raising claims include language that describes a product as “raised without antibiotics”; “not fed animal by-products”; “free range”; “vegetarian fed diet”; and “raised with added hormones.” FSIS currently evaluates such claims “by reviewing testimonials, affidavits, animal product protocols, and other relevant documentation provided by animal producers.” The agency is soliciting public input on this approval process, which also allows meat and poultry establishments to submit certification from outside organizations or entities in support of animal raising claims.…

GAO recently presented a new report, titled Food Labeling: FDA Needs to Better Leverage Resources, Improve Oversight, and Effectively Use Available Data to Help Consumers Select Healthy Foods before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. The report claims that FDA oversight, which has failed to keep pace with the growing number of food firms, offers “little assurance that companies comply with food labeling laws and regulations for, among other things, preventing false or misleading labeling.” In particular, GAO found that FDA (i) “does not have reliable data on the number of labels reviewed”; (ii) conducted only “limited” testing for the accuracy of nutrition information for labels from 2000 through 2006; and (iii) “does not track the complete and timely correction of labeling violations or analyze these and other labeling oversight data in routine reports to inform managers’ decisions, or ensure the…

A California resident has filed suit against ConAgra Foods, Inc., alleging that it falsely advertises and labels its Healthy Choice® pasta sauce products as “100% Natural,” “Natural” or “All Natural” despite using high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to make them. Lockwood v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., No. 08-4151 (N.D. Cal., filed September 2, 2008). Claiming that “[t]he complicated process used to create HFCS does not occur in nature” and that “it is misleading to consumers to label products that contain HFCS as ‘Natural,’” the plaintiff seeks to certify a class of “All persons in California who purchased any of Defendant’s pasta sauce products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup, yet marketed, advertised or labeled as being ‘All Natural’, ‘Natural’ or ‘100% Natural’ during the ‘Class Period.’” According to the plaintiff, a number of common questions predominate over individual issues, including whether defendant misrepresented its ingredients, mislabeled its products or engaged in unfair and…

In a July 3, 2008, letter to the Corn Refiners Association, the FDA has indicated that products containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) may be labeled “natural” if the synthetic fixing agent that is used in the HFCS production process does not come into contact with the high dextrose equivalent corn starch hydrolysate, which undergoes enzymatic reaction to produce HFCS. The fixing agent apparently holds the enzyme in place on a column and any unreacted agent is removed by washing before the starch hydrolysate is added. Thus, “we would not object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing the HFCS produced by the manufacturing process described” by a representative of the Archer Daniels Midland Co., who met with FDA at the request of the Corn Refiners Association in April 2008. The agency added, “we would object to the use of the term ‘natural’ on a product containing…

According to a news source, a federal court in New Jersey has dismissed claims that the manufacturer of a beverage containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) deceived the public by promoting the product as “all natural.” The court apparently based its ruling on federal preemption, leaving it to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to define the terms “natural” and “all natural.” U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper reportedly stated, “This court will not determine that which the FDA, with all of its scientific expertise, has yet to determine, namely how the terms ‘natural’ and ‘all natural’ should be defined and whether either may be used on the label of a beverage containing HFCS. Instead, this court will allow the FDA, which has already set forth specific requirements for what must be included on beverage labels, to decide whether such a determination is necessary and warranted.” The ruling specifically applies to Snapple®…

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