Last week, two putative class action complaints were filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York and the Northern District of California, respectively, alleging that the Quaker Oats Company, as well as its parent company PepsiCo, Inc. (collectively, “Quaker Oats”), falsely advertise Quaker Oats brand oat products as “100% natural” despite the presence of “a potent herbicide that last year was declared a probable human carcinogen by the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization.” Both lawsuits do not presently seek monetary damages, but do request full refunds for consumers and corrective advertising by Quaker Oats.
Why is Quaker Oats Facing a Class Action Lawsuit for Alleged False Advertising?
Quaker Oats Faces False Advertising Class Action Over presence of Glyphosate
The complaints allege that Quaker Oats has falsely advertised three specific products as being “100% natural” despite the presence of glyphosate, a “potent herbicide”: (1) Quaker Oats Old-Fashioned; (2) Quaker Oats Quick 1-Minute; and (3) Quaker Steel Cut Oats. Both lawsuits acknowledge that there is nothing unlawful about Quaker Oats’ use of glyphosate as a pesticide. However, the complaints allege that “Quaker [Oats] knows that consumers seek out and wish to purchase whole, natural foods that do not contain chemicals, and that consumers will pay more for foods they believe to be natural than they will pay for foods that they do not believe to be natural.” Therefore “[b]y deceiving consumers about the nature, quality, and/or ingredients of its Quaker Oats, [defendant] is able to sell a greater volume of Quaker Oats, to charge higher prices for Quaker Oats, and to take away market share from competing products, thereby increasing its own sales and profits.”
Quaker Oats has yet to be served in either action. In response to the actions, Quaker Oats released a statement which explains that the company did not add glyphosate during any part of the oat milling process but that it might be applied by farmers to certain grains before harvest. Therefore, according to Quaker Oats, “[a]ny levels of glyphosate that may remain are trace amounts and significantly below any limits which have been set by the [Environmental Protection Agency] as safe for human consumption.”
Last fall, we blogged about the Federal Trade Commission’s vigorous crackdown on health-related claims made in product advertising. It is important that companies, as well as their marketing partners, consult with competent legal counsel to understand the laws involved in advertising products to the public.