This regular publication by DLA Piper lawyers focuses on helping clients navigate the ever-changing business, legal and regulatory landscape.

  • Nestle Purina hit by lawsuit over allegedly poisonous dog food. A lawsuit filed February 5 in the US District Court for the Northern District of California contends Nestle Purina PetCare’s Beneful dry dog food has “resulted in serious illness and death of thousands of dogs.” Bill Salzman, the company’s director of corporate communications, issued a statement terming the lawsuit “baseless” and declaring the company’s intention to vigorously defend it. He pointed out that similar allegations in two previous class actions were both dismissed by the courts.
  • Manufacturer of Jim Beam bourbon sued for use of the term “handcrafted.” Beam Suntory, the manufacturer of Jim Beam bourbon, has been sued in California federal court in a false advertising consumer class action. According to the complaint, filed February 17, Beam Suntory describes its bourbon as “handcrafted” when, allegedly, a significant portion of its production process is mechanized. The plaintiffs assert that on the company’s website, various steps – including grinding the grain, mixing it with yeast or water, transferring it to a fermenting location, and bottling it – are clearly shown as being accomplished with machinery. They say that since handcrafted bourbon is regarded as superior, Beam Suntory is trying to achieve a higher price point by using this incorrect description. Beam Suntory has termed the case “frivolous.”
  • Cucumbers contaminated with Salmonella sicken 275 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that last year, a four-month outbreak of Salmonella from cucumbers sickened 275 people in 29 states and the District of Columbia. The contamination is thought to have come from a single grower in the Delmarva region of Virginia. Until this outbreak, no farm product from that area, other than tomatoes, had been associated with a Salmonella outbreak. The CDC made the announcement – the first public mention of this outbreak – in itsMorbidity and Mortality Report on February 20.
  • Agriculture secretary says smartphones may be answer to knotty labeling issues. At a House hearing on February 25, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggested that consumers could soon benefit from a new system that would let them learn important information about the foods they purchase—such as whether they include genetically modified organisms—by scanning special bar codes or other symbols on food packages with their smartphones. Vilsack’s idea was not a formal proposal, and he does not have authority over the FDA, which would likely be responsible for promulgating such a labeling rule for most foods. Nonetheless, the idea could gain some traction, and, as Vilsack said, it could help resolve the debate about whether the use of GMOs should be disclosed on food labels. Some supporters of GMO labeling did not immediately embrace the idea, however, saying consumers should not need to rely on advanced technology to find out if their food includes GMOs.
  • National campaign launched to promote consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially by teenagers. On February 26, James Gavin, board chairman of Partnership for a Healthier America, announced the kickoff of a campaign to encourage Americans, especially teenagers from economically and socially challenged areas, to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. The campaign, which will launch in the spring, has won the vocal support of First Lady Michelle Obama and is considered by food industry observers to pose a threat to the marketing of packaged foods. The campaign includes a social media push designed to facilitate the posting of 1 million tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts daily during early March. Celebrities are also lending support to the campaign, including professional football players Victor Cruz and Cam Newton and actors Jessica Alba and Kristen Bell.
  • Companies marketing marijuana-plant extract receive FDA warning letters. Four companies marketing dietary supplement products containing cannabidiol (CBD), a non-narcotic extract of the marijuana plant, received warning letters sent by the FDA on February 26. The letters said nothing about the legal status of CBD itself; rather, the agency concentrated on health claims made about CBD, such as the claims that CBD inhibits the growth of cancer cells or reduces damage from chemotherapy. CBD is normally made from industrial hemp and is classified as a non-narcotic because it has a very low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. It remains unclear whether the FDA will ultimately take a more aggressive approach towards dietary supplements that contain CBD, regardless of what health claims are made.
  • McDonald’s USA plans to source its chicken from farms that don’t use antibiotics that are important to human medicine. On March 4, McDonald’s USA announced that it will use only chicken that has been raised without antibiotics that are important to human medicine (farmers who supply chicken for its menu will continue to responsibly use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans that helps keep chickens healthy). In addition, later this year, the company’s US restaurants will offer milk jugs with low-fat white milk and fat-free chocolate milk from cows that are not treated with rbST, an artificial growth hormone. All of the chicken served at McDonald’s approximately 14,000 US restaurants currently comes from US farms, all of which are working closely with McDonald’s to implement the new antibiotics policy within the next two years. The Center for Science in the Public Interest said that this “is excellent news for consumers” that “should have major reverberations throughout the meat and poultry industry.”