Perkins Coie is pleased to present its fourth annual Food Litigation Year in Review 2019, offering a summary of the past year’s key litigation outcomes, regulatory developments, and filing data. Using metrics from our proprietary database, developed by our food litigation team in order to track and understand trends in this area, 2019’s Year in Review again reports an increase in class action litigation, with a record-breaking 173 new lawsuits filed. The upward filing trends in the class action landscape are mirrored in other industries and in the prosecution of related claims: putative class actions against the pet food and dietary supplement industries were on the rise in 2019, as were Proposition 65 warning notices.
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California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) issued finalized amendments on January 14, 2020, to its regulations that will become effective on April 1, 2020. Per OEHHA in its Final Statement of Reasons, the amendments “clarify how intermediate parties in the chain of distribution can satisfy their obligation to provide a warning” under Proposition

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.
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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.  
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On Monday, June 3rd, California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) approved a new regulation exempting coffee from Proposition 65 warnings. The rule states that: “Exposures to chemicals in coffee, listed on or before March 15, 2019 as known to the state to cause cancer, that are created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer.”  OEHHA announced the approval of the coffee exemption regulation on Twitter and confirmed that the new rule will take effect on October 1, 2019.

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Perkins Coie is pleased to present its third annual Food Litigation Year in Review, offering a summary of the year’s key litigation outcomes, regulatory developments, and filing data. Last year, pointing to uncertainty at the appellate level, Perkins Coie predicted continued litigation in 2018. Using metrics from our proprietary database, developed by our food

Each month we will be sharing the PC Food Litigation Index, a summary of latest class action filings in the food and beverage industry. This data is compiled by Perkins Coie based on a review of dockets from courts nationwide.

August 2018 continued this year’s trend of higher monthly filings than in 2017. False advertising, slack-fill and health maintenance claims were filed this month. Some claims were filed in batches. For instance, two class action suits were filed in the Central District of California in two days, Garcia v. Himalayasat-Sustainable Sourcing, LLC, et al. and Garcia v. Frontier Natural Products Coop., et al., alleging that salt is a mineral and not an agricultural product so therefore salt cannot be identified as organic. Thus, Erika Garcia claims, the defendants’ mislabeling falsely and deceptively induced her to purchase the product based on misrepresentations.

In addition, the Center for Food Safety filed a slew of claims in late August against multiple grocery chains claiming the chains sold peanut and almond butter products that contain acrylamide, a substance “known to the state of California to cause cancer,” and despite exposing its customers to the chemical, the chains fail to provide the required Proposition 65 warning.  These filings continued into the month of September.


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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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