Court places “natural” challenge on hold pending FDA action (subscription to Law 360 required)

  • As the food industry is well aware, lawsuits challenging “natural” claims continue to proliferate nationwide. Many challenges have focused on the presence or use of synthetic ingredients or processing aids in products positioned as “all-natural” or “100% natural.”
  • For example, Kraft Foods Group (Kraft Foods) has recently been embroiled in a “natural” class action lawsuit over claims that it falsely marketed its Shredded Fat Free Cheddar cheese as “natural” when it allegedly contains artificial ingredients.  Kraft Foods asked the court (the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico) to stay the case pending FDA guidance on “natural” (As previously covered on this blog, FDA has requested comments on the definition of “natural” to determine whether or how the FDA should define the term going forward).
  • On March 6, 2017, a Puerto Rico federal judge placed a hold on the false labeling suit explaining that the case is being stayed until the FDAprovides guidance on the use of the term “natural” on food products. In granting the stay, the judge pointed to three recent rulings in support of Kraft Foods’ argument that the case should be stayed pending the completion of the FDA’s rulemaking process concerning the definition of “natural”.  The three rulings are the Ninth Circuit’s 2016 decisions in Kane v. Chobani and Astiana v. Hain Celestial Group, as well as the Southern District of New York’s 2016 ruling in In re Kind LLC “Healthy & All Natural” Litigation.  See our previous blog coverage of the Kane v. Chobani case here.
  • Because any FDA action on “natural” claims may take several years, it remains to be seen just how long trial courts actually may be willing to wait and see.