A federal court in California has granted in part and denied in part the motion to dismiss filed by General Mills in litigation alleging that certain of its Nature Valley® products are deceptively labeled and advertised as “natural” because they contain sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), high-maltose corn syrup or maltodextrin and rice maltodextrin, which are purportedly “highly processed” and therefore not “natural.” Janney v. General Mills, No. 12-3919 (U.S. Dist. Ct., N.D. Cal., filed May 10, 2013). The plaintiffs are represented by Center for Science in the Public Interest attorney Stephen Gardner.

The court disagreed with General Mills that the primary jurisdiction doctrine barred the claims, finding that the Food and Drug Administration “has signaled a relative lack of interest in devoting its limited resources to what it evidently considers a minor issue, or in establishing some ‘uniformity in administration’ with regard to the use of ‘natural’ in food labels.” The court also determined that as to the labeling and advertising of five specifically named products, the plaintiffs had sufficiently pleaded fraud under California law.

The court agreed with the defendant, however, that the complaint “does not plead fraud with particularity with regard to two areas—the online marketing sources (the Nature Valley® website, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, plus presumably Twitter, which is pled in the [first amended complaint] but which General Mills does not mention); and the ‘unidentified products.’” According to the court, “Plaintiffs’ vague description of the products they contend are at issue (apart from the Named Products) leaves General Mills (and the court) to guess which of its products (and which statements about those products) General Mills will be required to defend in this case.” The court ordered the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint no later than June 7, 2013.