While food companies and consumer advocacy groups agree that Americans have the right to know the contents of their food, the ideal level of transparency has been debated in legislatures, before courts and in comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consumers have been attracted to foods labeled as “natural,” but they can turn litigious when they learn that “natural” foods may contain ingredients they to be “unnatural.”

Despite requests, FDA has long resisted defining how “natural” may be used in food and beverage marketing, resulting in confusion for companies and consumers alike. “The ‘natural’ thing has always been such a morass,” one Consumers Union analyst said in 2007. While FDA has sought information on the use of the term and promised to provide guidance, the lack of definition has led to companies regularly facing allegations that they intentionally mislead consumers by marketing their products as “natural.” Controversial ingredients include:

New “natural” lawsuits are filed nearly every week, but the number may begin to taper off as more courts continue to dismiss or defer claims. While some “natural” lawsuits settle with an agreement to change packaging or for large sums, many claims are ultimately dismissed. Some courts have dismissed cases on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to definenatural” in the absence of an FDA definition, and courts also frequently deny requests for injunctive relief because plaintiffs fail to show that they may purchase the product again. While these adverse decisions may eventually dissuade plaintiffs’ attorneys from filing new lawsuits, the onslaught of “natural” litigation seems unlikely to end until FDA demarcates “natural” and “unnatural.”

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.