Quaker Oats has become the newest target in the wave of class action litigation against food manufacturers. A lawsuit currently seeking class certification has been filed on behalf of consumers in New York and California for the company’s claim that its oatmeal is 100% natural.
According to the allegations of the complaint, an independent lab in California tested Quaker’s Quick 1-Minute oatmeal and found glyphosate, a common pesticide, in the product. Because of the glyphosate, the lawsuit alleges that Quaker’s 100% natural claim is false and misleading. The test was performed only on the Quick 1-Minute product, but the suit also includes claims relating to Old-Fashioned Oats and Steel Cut Oats.
Quaker Oats responded in a statement that it does not add glyphosate to the grains during the milling process but that farmers may use it on certain grains before harvest. It further stated it cleanses the oats it receives. Significantly, the testing revealed glyphosate at a level of 1.18 parts per million in the product, which is about 4 percent of the level the EPA permits in cereal grains.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers, who funded the testing, argued that “[t]he issue is that Quaker advertises these products as 100 percent natural, and glyphosate in any amount is not natural.”
The suit asks for refunds for consumers who have purchased the products and that Quaker either disclose the glyphosate content or remove it.
This approach marks a shift in consumer class action litigation, as plaintiffs’ counsel are now testing products in preparation for litigation. No doubt such testing will continue to expand, to other pesticides and substances, but certainly to other products. Time will tell whether the federal district courts adjudicating the lawsuit will find the EPA regulations compelling, but the unique issues in this case are sure to harvest much interest as the litigation unfolds.