Consumer association brews up lawsuit over “all-natural” claims
The herbicide glyphosate, available in commercial form from Monsanto as “Roundup” since the early 1970s, had by 2007 become the No. 1 herbicide in the United States agricultural sector, and the second most used in the home and garden sector. But the debate about whether the product causes negative health effects – especially cancer – has simmered for years, with some unexpected twists and turns.
A number of regulatory agencies from around the globe have studied the effects of glyphosate on human health, with a grab bag of results. A German study found the connection between glyphosate and cancer unconvincing; the European Food Safety Authority likewise found the link unlikely.
On the other hand, in 2015, a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate as a substance that may cause cancer. Lawsuits ensued, including class actions against product manufacturers that claimed to make “natural” products but used the chemical in their production cycle. Quaker Oats was a target of such a suit, previously covered in these pages.
But then Reuters published an article noting that the WHO report, which launched multiple suits regarding glyphosate as well as calls for an outright ban in the European Union, had contained language in draft form that contradicted the findings of the final report. Why the alleged edits were made, and by whom, remains a mystery.
This same report is cited in a recent action filed against R.C. Bigelow Tea, Inc. by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). The OCA claims that Bigelow, which advertises its teas as “all natural,” is engaging in deceptive conduct because glyphosate appears in one of its products at .38 parts per million. The suit, filed in the D.C. Superior Court, Civil Division, in December 2017, seeks an order enjoining Bigelow’s conduct and corrective advertising under the district’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
Cindi Bigelow, Bigelow Tea’s current CEO, fired back publicly, calling the case “frivolous” and “illogical.” Moreover, she reminded her interviewer that the levels found by the OCA were much lower than the safe limits defined by federal standards.
It will be interesting to see whether Bigelow will mount a defense around the federal standards that the OCA doesn’t even mention in the complaint.
Additionally, the Quaker case was dismissed because the Northern District of Illinois ruled that food labeling was not governed by the individual states, but by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. It seems likely that Bigelow will move to dismiss on similar grounds.