April 30, 2012 Articles

Trends in Food Labeling and Nutrition Class Actions

Suits have challenged the use of the term "natural" to describe food products when those products use some processed or synthetic ingredient.

By David T. Biderman and Joren S. Bass

In recent years, the number of consumer class actions challenging health and nutrition marketing claims made in relation to food and drinks has expanded dramatically. The courts are still developing a consistent approach to handling these cases. However, trends are emerging.

At the essence of these health-related claims is the plaintiffs’ contention that the defendants promised them something that they did not receive. For example, there has been a series of suits challenging the use of the term “natural” or “all natural” to describe food products. Many of these cases challenge a defendant’s use of some processed or synthetic ingredient. An early focus of suits challenging the term “all natural” focused on products that contained high-fructose corn syrup marketed as “all natural.” Other “all natural” challenges have focused on foods containing trans fats, genetically modified ingredients, and processed ingredients that do not occur in “nature.”

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