A New York federal court has granted in part and denied in part a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that Hain Celestial’s Earth’s Best® food and body-care products are deceivingly labeled as “organic,” finding that the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) does not preempt the plaintiffs’ claims. Segedie v. Hain Celestial Grp., No. 14-5029 (S.D.N.Y., order entered May 7, 2015). The plaintiffs challenged 69 food products and 20 body-care products labeled “organic,” “natural” or “all natural,” arguing that they contain ingredients inconsistent with the company’s claims.
In assessing precedent on preemption, the court found that a federal agency’s approval of a label does not bar any challenge to that label. The court also determined that the plaintiffs’ claims were legally sufficient as to both the “organic” and “natural” challenges. Hain argued that the ingredients in question were subject to an exemption under OFPA because they were nutrient vitamins or minerals, but the court found no evidence to support the argument and allowed the “organic” claim to proceed.
Hain also argued that the plaintiffs failed to establish a definition of “natural” upon which they based their claims, but the court disagreed, finding that the pled definition was appropriate for the motion-todismiss stage of litigation. “[I]t is enough that Plaintiffs allege that ‘natural’ communicates the absence of synthetic ingredients.  Likewise, the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s and Department of Agriculture’s] respective policies concerning ‘natural,’ while potentially relevant, are not controlling,” the court said, ultimately allowing the claims to continue. “To be clear, the Court is not establishing a rule of law that foods labeled ‘natural’ may not contain synthetic ingredients—far from it. The alleged presence of synthetic ingredients merely brings the claim of deception into the realm of plausibility.” The court also dismissed several claims, finding no support for the alleged breach of implied warranty, fraudulent concealment or constructive fraud, but several remaining claims were left intact.