Food Labeling and Transparency
Consumers from several states brought suits against ConAgra Foods, Inc. and were subsequently consolidated into a Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) under consumer protection statutes in fifteen states. Plaintiffs allege that ConAgra deceptively and misleadingly labeled and marketed its Wesson® Oil brand cooking oils as “100% Natural” when they contain unnatural, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). Wesson® Oils are made with plants – including rapeseed, soybeans, and corn – whose genes have been directly altered by scientists in a lab using biotechnology for the express purpose of causing those plants to exhibit traits that are not naturally their own. GMOs are not “Natural” by design – they are created artificially in a laboratory through genetic engineering – and Plaintiffs allege that representing products with GMOs as “Natural” is therefore false and disingenuous. Plaintiffs seek monetary, declaratory, and injunctive relief.
In Re ConAgra Foods, Inc.
- Harvard Law Review, 6/10/17 – “Briseno v. ConAgra Foods, Inc.”
- Food Navigator USA, 1/4/17 – “ConAgra dealt blow by ninth circuit in ‘100% natural’ case, but its wider significance is less clear, say experts”
- Law360, 2/24/15 – “11 Statewide Classes OK’d In ConAgra ‘100% Natural’ Oil Row”
- Law360, 12/10/14 – “ConAgra Discovery Dispute Heats Up With Sanctions Threat”
A group of individual consumers, on behalf of all consumers nationwide, filed a class action lawsuit suit against Kind® LLC, the maker of the popular KIND® snack bars. The KIND® brand bars were advertised as “Non GMO” and “All Natural.” However, independent testing revealed that the snack bars contained ingredients from genetically modified crops and/or other artificial, highly processed, or synthetic ingredients. Based on this discovery, the complaint alleges that the products were not, in fact, “Non GMO” or “All Natural.” Plaintiffs further allege that Kind® LLC, by marketing these products as “Non GMO” and “All Natural,” misleadingly suggested that their snack bars are made of higher-quality and more natural ingredients than they actually are. Plaintiffs seek monetary and injunctive on behalf of the class, including an order requiring Kind® LLC to correct its deceptive marketing and advertising practices.
In Re: Kind LLC “Healthy and All Natural” Litigation
- TruthInAdvertising.org, October 2016 – “Kind Snack Bars “Health” and “All Natural” Claims”
- Top Class Actions, 4/12/16 – “Plaintiffs Ask Judge To Keep KIND Snack Bar Class Action Alive”
- Law360, 4/7/16 – “Kind Bar ‘Natural’ Suit Can’t Wait For FDA, Consumers Say”
Two consumers filed a class action lawsuit against The Procter and Gamble Company for the deceptive advertising of Ivory® Dish Detergent as “gentle on the hands” and “mild” when it contains methylisothiazolinone (MI), a known sensitizing agent and contact allergen. Consumers rely on manufacturers’ representations to help them either avoid known allergens and irritants in their products, or to at least know of potential allergens or irritants and the reactions they may cause. The Procter and Gamble Company makes various representations about the qualities of Ivory® Dish Detergent, including representations that it is “gentle on hands,” “trusted,” and “designed to have mild, long-lasting suds.” The complaint alleges that these representations falsely and misleadingly give consumers the impression that Ivory® Dish Detergent, a product that inevitably comes into direct contact with skin, is gentle and mild for skin contact and a safe and non-irritating dishwashing product. Nowhere on the product packaging, or on its website, does The Procter and Gamble Company disclose the presence of MI, a sensitizing agent and contact allergen known to adversely affect a significant percentage of the population. The Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief on behalf of the class, including an order requiring The Procter and Gamble Company to disclose the presence and properties of MI on Ivory® Dish Detergent packaging.
Thompson, et. al. v. The Procter and Gamble Company
A consumer filed a proposed class action lawsuit against Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, LLC, concerning celebrity chef Rachael Ray’s brand of pet food, Nutrish, for deceptively labeling and marketing the product as “natural” despite containing an unnatural chemical found in weed killer.
Nutrish claims its dog food is “natural,” but tests conducted by an independent laboratory show that the biocide glyphosate is present in the product. The complaint alleges that because glyphosate is present, Nutrish’s claims that the product is “natural” is false and misleading. The Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.
Parks v. Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, LLC
- The Today Show, August 2018 – “Rachael Ray’s Nutrish ‘natural’ dog food is ‘potentially harmful,’ lawsuit says”
A consumer filed a proposed class action lawsuit against orange juice giant Florida’s Natural for deceptively labeling and marketing its juice as “natural” despite containing the unnatural biocide glyphosate. The complaint alleges that the reasonable consumer would not expect glyphosate to be present in orange juice that advertises itself as “natural,” especially since the use of glyphosate is not a part of the “natural” method of growing or harvesting oranges. The Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and declaratory and injunctive relief.
Axon v. Citrus World, Inc. et al
Consumer plaintiffs in New York and California brought suits against The Honest Company® (Honest) alleging violation of consumer protection laws in the way that Honest marketed some of its personal care, household care, and baby care products as “natural,” “all natural,” “naturally derived,” “plant-based,” and as containing “no harsh chemicals (ever!).” The plaintiffs alleged that these products, contrary to the way Honest markets them, actually contain dozens of unnatural, synthetic chemicals. One of the synthetic ingredients found in some of Honest’s products is methylisothiazolinone, which is a contact allergen that has been linked to what is called an epidemic of painful skin allergies, including rashes, blistering, swelling, redness, and hives.
VICTORY: On December 8 , 2017 the court approved the final settlement, under which Honest created a class settlement fund of $7,300,000. The settlement requires Honest stop labeling the products at issue as “all natural” or “100% natural.” Honest is also prohibited from using the phrase “no harsh chemicals, ever!” in products that contain methylisothiazolinone or cocamidopropylamine oxide in an amount that is more than incidental. To the extent the labels describe a product as “natural,” “naturally derived,” “plant-based” and/or “plant-derived” Honest will define the term(s) on its website, taking into account the applicable regulatory or statutory requirements.
Plaintiffs brought suit against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. (J&J) for making fraudulent “natural” claims on several of its Aveeno® Active Naturals skin moisturizers. The complaint alleged that the Active Naturals products contain dozens of harmful and synthetic chemicals, including glycerin, benzaldehyde, and phenoxyethanol, and that J&J failed to disclose the presence of these synthetic, unnatural ingredients on packaging or its website. Plaintiffs further alleged the deceptive marketing practices of J&J violated New York, California, and Florida consumer protection laws.
VICTORY: On November 1, 2017 the court approved the final settlement, under which J&J created a class settlement fund of $6,750,000, with any remaining funds to be donated to the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment. The settlement also required J&J to remove the term”Active Naturals” from the front label of all products. If the term “Active Naturals” remains on the back or side of the label and if a product is not comprised entirely of naturally-derived ingredients, J&J is required to include language on the back or side of the label indicating that product contains both naturally-derived and non-naturally-derived ingredients.
A consumer plaintiff brought suit against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies, Inc. (J&J) for deceptively marketing Bedtime Bath® and Bedtime Lotion® products as “clinically proven” to help babies sleep better. The suit alleged that the J&J knew that the products themselves were not “clinically proven” but were subjected to clinical tests only as part of a three-step routine of bath, massage, and quiet time outlined on the products’ bottles. The plaintiff sought damages for J&J’s alleged violations of New York’s consumer protection law.
VICTORY: On January 31, 2017 the court approved the final settlement, under which J&J created a $5,000,000 settlement fund, with any remaining funds to donated to the Nurse Family Partnership and Newborns in Need.
Plaintiffs brought suit against General Mills in connection with “natural” claims on the company’s Nature Valley granola bars. General Mills marketed its granola bars as “100% natural” even though they contain artificial ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or several other artificially produced ingredients. This suit was brought in conjunction with Center for Science in the Public Interest.
VICTORY: In November 2014, a settlement agreement was announced which prevents General Mills from claiming that its Nature Valley granola bars and similar products are “100% natural” if those products contain high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corny syrup, dextrose monohydrate, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, or any other artificially produced ingredients.