Suit Over ConAgra's "All-Natural" Claims Could Open Food Litigation Floodgates

A class action law suit which has been filed against food giant ConAgra for labeling its cooking oils as "All-Natural" could open the floodgates to litigation against many food companies which make "Natural," "All-Natural," or "100%-Natural" claims
 
 
Aug. 29, 2011 - PRLog -- A class action law suit which has been filed against food giant ConAgra for labeling its cooking oils as "All-Natural," even though some allegedly come from genetically modified organisms [GMOs], could open the floodgates to litigation against many companies which make "Natural," "All-Natural," or "100%-Natural" claims for their food products which could be considered unfair, misleading, or deceptive under very broad state consumer protection laws, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

Prof. Banzhaf was the architect of a law suit against McDonald's, over claims that its french fries were cooked in 100% pure vegetable oil, which forced the company to pay a $12.5 million settlement, and triggered a growing number of fat law suits; ten of which have already been very successful.  http://banzhaf.net/docs/NYTonMcDonaldsSuit.html   http://banzhaf.net/docs/NYTonMcDonaldsSettlement.html   http://banzhaf.net/suefat.html

"Many state consumer protection laws permit recovery for claims which might be deceptive or misleading even if only to uneducated people, and even if the claims are technically true," says Banzhaf, noting that McDonald's claim about its french fries wasn't false.  He also notes that such laws often permit law suits and large financial recoveries even if no plaintiff can show that he suffered any actual harm.

There are many "all natural," "natural," or "100%-Natural" food claims which might be found unfair, misleading, or deceptive, says Banzhaf, including:
* Kix cereal, Wesson oil, Pam spray, and Frito Lay chips all claim “100% Natural” on their packaging, but allegedly contain GMOs.
* "100% orange juice, not from concentrate" appears on products which incorporate "flavor packs" to enhance their  flavor
* Many so-called “All-Natural” foods contain ingredients such as MSG or high fructose corn syrup
* Minute Maid's Cranberry Apple Cocktail contains added citric acid, which the FDA says disqualifies it from claiming to be all natural
* Many popular "All-Natural" ice creams reportedly contain high fructose corn syrup, alkalized cocoa, hydrogenated oil, and other unnatural ingredients

Indeed, reportedly about 70% of processed foods - from soda to soup, crackers to condiments - contain ingredients which come from GMOs, and many nevertheless make claims that they are "all-natural," "100%-natural," or simply "natural," says Banzhaf.  Thus the number of potential law suits concerning such claims, and the number of potential plaintiffs for individual or class actions, is unbelievably large.

In the successful class action against McDonald's, it was alleged that McDonald's claim that its french fries were "cooked in 100% pure vegetable oil" was technically true, but misleading because it failed to note that they were pre-cooked in beef fat.  But the amount of beef fat in the fries was so small that it would add virtually no health risk, so that the great majority of customers probably didn't care.

In the ConAgra case, however, 90% of all Americans care about foods coming from GMOs, as indicated by the fact that they want such products to be labeled.

While failing to label such food products as coming from GMOs may not by itself create legal liability, falsely labeling them "All-Natural," apparently in an effort to target consumers who are especially concerned with health and/or are environmentally-conscious, may well cross the line, leading to potential legal liability to millions of consumers who were arguably mislead by such representations.

The growing number of fat law suits led Fortune magazine to suggest, in a cover story, that "fat is the next tobacco" in terms of litigation targets by public interest as well as other attorneys.  If so, says Banzhaf, perhaps "all-natural" is the next fat, as a target of both money-hungry lawyers and public-interest attorneys.

JOHN F. BANZHAF III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D.
Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
Creator, Banzhaf Index of Voting Power
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418
http://banzhaf.net/

# # #

John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [http://banzhaf.net/] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking [http://ash.org/], obesity [http://banzhaf.net/obesitylinks.html], etc.
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