A Missouri federal court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging the “all natural” labels of Cape Cod Chips because the plaintiff failed to provide a suitable definition of “natural.” Kelly v. Cape Cod Potato Chip Co., No. 14-119 (U.S. Dist. Ct., W.D. Mo., order entered January 27, 2015). The plaintiff alleged that 16 varieties of Cape Cod Chips were advertised as “all natural” and made without preservatives despite containing 13 artificial and synthetic ingredients.
The court reviewed the definitions of “natural” submitted by the plaintiff and found them each lacking. It first dismissed the dictionary definition, “existing or produced by nature: not artificial,” as “not plausible because the Chips are processed foods, which of course do not exist or occur in nature.” The definition of “natural” found in an informal advisory opinion from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was not binding, the court found, because the agency “specifically declined to adopt any formal definition of ‘natural.’” The definition from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Food Safety and Inspection Service was insufficient as well because it “specifically states that it applies to ‘labeling for meat products and poultry products.’” The plaintiff also proposed the use of FDA’s “artificial flavoring” definition, but the court found that none of the contested 13 ingredients was included on FDA’s list of flavorings. Finally, the invocation of the USDA’s definition of “synthetic” was also inadequate because it applies only to products in the National Organic Program. Finding no valid definition to support the plaintiff’s arguments, the court dismissed the claim that the use of “natural” was misleading under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
The plaintiff’s argument against the use of “no preservatives” failed as well, the court found, because although she attached exhibits of the chip labels, none of the provided evidence showed any representation of the phrase “no preservatives” on the packaging. Cape Cod argued that its labels complied with federal regulations by listing each ingredient, and the court agreed. “Plaintiff’s assertion that she was deceived by Defendants’ labeling is contradicted by the full disclosure of the challenged ingredients by Defendants. Further, if Plaintiff wished to avoid products containing the challenged ingredients, Defendants provided her with all the information she needed to do so. Thus, the Court finds that Defendants’ labeling of the Chips is not deceptive or misleading with regards to the ingredients contained therein.”