The Ninth Circuit delivered a win for food and beverage companies just in time for the new year in a published opinion in Becerra v. Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc., — F.3d —, 2019 WL 7287554 (9th Cir. Dec. 30, 2019).

Plaintiff in Becerra alleged that use of the word “diet” to describe Diet Dr Pepper is misleading because it suggests the product will help consumers lose weight. She relied on several scientific studies to allege that aspartame, the artificial sweetener in many diet sodas, “is likely to cause weight gain,” and “poses no benefit for weight loss.” She also relied on the results of a survey that, according to Plaintiff, showed the majority of soft-drink consumers believe “diet” soft drinks will help them lose or maintain their weight. After several rounds of motion to dismiss briefing, the district court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice, and plaintiff appealed.


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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.


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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. 
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On March 25, 2019, Judge Gary L. Sharpe of the Northern District of New York dismissed a putative class action against CVS and Lang Pharma alleging that the labeling of defendants’ CVS Omega-3 Krill Oil is deceptive and misleading.  Plaintiff in the lawsuit, James Gaminde, alleged that CVS Omega-3 Krill Oil contained only sixty percent

As you all know, the Northern District of California jury found earlier this week that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide product was a “substantial factor” in causing a plaintiff’s non Hodgkin lymphoma. The defendants and industry were all very optimistic that the trial, which focused solely on causation and not knowledge or company conduct, would result in an impartial scientific analysis. Unfortunately, the jury ignored a very substantial body of literature that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe. It also ignored the conclusions of virtually every regulatory or public health group, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), subcommittees off the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Unfortunately, hundreds of similar cases are pending and a state court jury in Alameda also rendered a verdict against Monsanto.

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Last week, the California Court of Appeal held that a plaintiff’s suit seeking to require Proposition 65 acrylamide based cancer warnings on 59 popular breakfast cereals was pre-empted by federal nutrition policies aimed at encouraging Americans to consume more whole grains and by FDA letters stating that any warnings should be deferred given the uncertain science on the risks to humans of acrylamide in food. This conflict pre-emption ruling should help convince courts in other contexts that state warning requirements should defer to more carefully articulated federal policies.

Acrylamide, which forms in many foods during high-temperature cooking (e.g., frying, roasting, baking), has been a Proposition 65 listed substance since 1990, though its presence in food was not discovered until 2002. As the FDA has stated, there is much uncertainty if the levels of acrylamide in food pose any risk to humans.
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