Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Moms Across America and Beyond Pesticides announced last Thursday that the District of Columbia Superior Court has rejected General Mills’ motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the three nonprofits against the maker of Nature Valley granola bars.
The ruling upholds the right of nonprofits to bring these types of complaints against corporations. It also reinforces the notion that consumers can reasonably expect a product labeled “100% Natural” to be free of herbicides.
Three nonprofit groups sued General Mills in August 2016, for misleading the public by labeling Nature Valley brand granola bars as “Made with 100% NATURAL whole grain OATS” after tests revealed the presence of the chemical herbicide glyphosate, an ingredient in Roundup and hundreds of other glyphosate-based herbicides. The suit was brought on behalf of the nonprofits’ members in Washington DC under the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
“This is a huge win for consumers,” said OCA international director Ronnie Cummins. “In making this ruling, the judge reinforced the right of consumers to have reasonable expectations about what a company means by ‘natural.’ The ‘natural’ food industry is estimated at $90 billion a year. By slapping the word ‘natural’ on products that contain pesticides and other unnatural substances, corporations deceive consumers, and cut into the market share for authentically labeled healthy and certified organic products.’
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides said, “In this case, consumer law is critical to rein in companies that deceive consumers with ‘natural’ labeling when their products contain ingredients that are grown with pesticides.
Zen Honeycutt, founder of Moms Across America, said: When a customer chooses a food product that says 100% Natural on the packaging, they do so because the food manufacturer has communicated to them, with that claim, that their products are without harmful, man-made chemicals. We are very pleased that this case will be heard and misleading labeling will be addressed.”
Key findings from the DC Superior Court ruling include:
• The Court recognized that the 2012 Amendments to the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) may have expanded the means by which nonprofits may bring representative actions.
• The Court rejected General Mills’ argument that courts should defer to the FDA on possible future ruling re: “natural” food labeling, holding that it was up to the courts to decide what is or isn’t misleading to consumers.
• The Court also noted that it does not appear likely that the FDA will issue a ruling on “natural” anytime soon—rejecting a common argument made by so many food producers seeking to avoid liability for their misrepresentations.
• The Court held that a reasonable jury could find that General Mills’ “Made With 100% Natural Whole Grain Oats” claims were misleading to consumers.
The nonprofits are represented by Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Richman Law Group.
Read the July 6 DC Superior Court ruling here.
Read the original complaint here.