On the heels of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent declarations regarding the safety of products containing cannabidiol (CBD), several companies have been hit with class action lawsuits alleging that that the company’s CBD-containing products are mislabeled and falsely advertised in violation of state law. Further class action litigation is expected given the language of the FDA’s recent pronouncements and the widespread availability of CBD-containing products. Companies should prepare for the possibility of litigation and actively seek to mitigate the risks of unwanted attention by FDA or putative class action plaintiffs.
On October 7, 2019, the California Chamber of Commerce (“CalChamber”) filed a lawsuit against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the Attorney General and private bounty hunter plaintiffs from enforcing Proposition 65 regulations relating to acrylamide in food.
Acrylamide is a chemical that forms in nearly all starchy plant-based foods that have undergone high-temperature cooking, including French fries, coffee, cereals, crackers, breads, tortilla chips, dried fruits and many other foods. Acrylamide has been present in food as long as humans have been cooking. The chemical forms from sugars and an amino acid that are naturally present in food—it is not intentionally added to foods, nor does it come from food packaging or the environment. Continue Reading
Late last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 595, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (the “SAFE Banking Act”). The stated purpose of the SAFE Banking Act is to “increase public safety by ensuring access to financial services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses and service providers and reducing the amount of cash at such businesses.”
In particular, the bill would provide safe harbor and other protections under federal law to financial institutions and insurers that provide services to cannabis-related legitimate businesses. Under the proposed bill, such insurers and financial service providers would not be subject to liability under federal law solely for providing such services to, or investing the income derived from, cannabis-related legitimate businesses.
In an Order issued earlier this week, the D.C. Superior Court entered an important ruling on the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA). While the ruling ultimately found that the plaintiffs in the suit had standing, it substantially trimmed the theories upon which that standing was grounded.
In Praxis Project et al. v. The Coca-Cola Company, two individuals and a non-profit organization lodged suit against the beverage manufacturer alleging that the manufacturer had made false, deceptive, and misleading representations about its sugar-sweetened beverages in violation of the DCCPPA. Among other things, the Plaintiffs alleged they had standing to lodge the suit based on the DCCPPA’s unique standing provisions.
As of August 2019, overall food litigation filings are on pace with those of last year. California and New York remain the two most popular jurisdictions for food litigation matters. While California filings in 2019 are approximately the same as this time last year, we note that about 40% of total California filings occurred between September and December 2018. So far this year, we have also noticed an uptick in filings in the District of Columbia. While filings in the District were a small part of the overall total in 2018, food-related filings in this jurisdiction are currently exceeding those of larger jurisdictions, including Florida, Illinois, and Missouri.
Regarding types of matters, false labeling cases have far outstripped those of other categories. Compared with August 2018, food-related false advertising claims have increased nearly 60%. Filings for “all natural” and slack-fill claims have fallen compared to August 2018, with fewer than 20 new cases filed in 2019 from both categories combined. Even so, we are tracking a number of important trends regarding “all natural” claims, including several cases alleging that the presence of malic acid or other materials render product labeling regarding “naturally flavored” false or misleading. Continue Reading
As we reported in July 2019, many states have enacted laws related to the labeling of meat alternative products and limiting their use of meat-like descriptors like burgers or hot dogs. One such law recently took effect in Mississippi.
Mississippi’s law, S.B. 2922, provided that a plant-based, insect-based, or cell-cultured food product “shall not be labeled as meat or a meat food product” and even imposed potential criminal sanctions for doing so. Just a few weeks after it went into effect, the state has promulgated draft regulations that appear to create a substantial carve-out for plant-based foods. The draft regulations are notable for what is included and omitted from this significant carve out. Continue Reading
In recent years, we have tracked numerous cases that claimed food products marketed as “pure” did not have the marketed levels of purity. From water to cheese to honey products, “pure” claims have led to challenges in federal and state courts around the country.
Many suits alleged that trace amounts of synthetic chemicals or pesticides render products impure or otherwise not 100% “natural.” Recently, a consumers’ association sued a tea manufacturer, alleging that the tea showed trace amounts of synthetic molecules, including glyphosate, even though it was marketed as “100% Natural” and “Pure.” Honey manufacturers have faced several similar suits, which alleged that honey containing trace amounts of pesticides, particularly glyphosate, is not “100% Pure.” Continue Reading
The Food Safety Modernization Act (“FSMA”) ushered in a sea change in the government’s regulation of food safety. Pursuant to FSMA, the FDA has promulgated a series of rules, including a 2015 rule related to the Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (the “FSVP Rule”). These programs set forth certain requirements to ensure food safety and appropriate labeling for food imported into the United States. The FSVP Rule requires that importers verify that the food they import into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. food safety standards.
Just this week, the FDA announced the issuance of its first warning letter under the FSVP Rule. The warning letter was sent to an importer of tahini, which was implicated in a Salmonella outbreak earlier this year. The tahini was recalled after four illnesses were reported. Per a statement attributed to Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless, “The warning letter follows an FDA inspection conducted in response to a recent Salmonella outbreak, which revealed that the importer was not in compliance with the FSVP.” Continue Reading
July was a hot month in food litigation. There were twenty-eight new filings, which puts total new food litigation filings at about 100 in 2019. More than half of the new filings were in California state and federal court, with several new filings in D.C. Superior Court and federal court in Illinois and Florida.
Plaintiffs in several new cases allege that defendant’s foods or beverages contain heavy metals, and defendants had a duty to disclose the presence of those metals to consumers. In Labajo v. Welch Foods, Inc., 5:19-cv-01306 (C.D. Cal.), for example, the plaintiff alleges that Welch Foods fails to warn individuals that Welch’s White Grape Juice and Concord Grape Juice products expose consumers to heightened levels of heavy metals. Plaintiffs allege Welch’s has a duty to disclose that the products contain metals independent of any duty imposed by Proposition 65. Likewise, in Arellano v. Mead Johnson Nutrition Co., 2:19-cv-06462 (C.D. Cal.), plaintiff alleges that testing has found Mead Johnson’s Enfamil Premium infant formula contains high levels of the contaminants arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, noting that the levels of lead are above the USFDA Provisional Tolerable Intake Level for children six years and under. Continue Reading
On July 31, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the outgoing FDA commissioner, published an editorial in which he proposed how the FDA could expedite approval of food and beverage products that contain cannabidiol (CBD).
In this update, we review Dr. Gottlieb’s proposal which highlights areas of concern for business involved in the CBD industry, such as labeling and deceptive marketing. Read more here.