Last week, Dole Foods Co. Inc. prevailed on its motion for summary judgment in an “All-Natural” food labeling lawsuit. Dole had been sued in a class action by consumers who argued that the food company mislabeled various mixed fruit products as “all natural fruit” even though the products contained “chemical preservatives” such as ascorbic acid and citric acid, “both allegedly synthetic ingredients.”
The plaintiff in the case argued that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defined the word “natural” as precluding the addition of any synthetic or artificial ingredients into a food product. Conversely, Dole argued that there was no evidence that the mixed fruit products were “anything but natural” and that plaintiff made “no showing that reasonable consumers likely would have been misled” by the “all natural fruit” label.
Ruling for Dole, Judge Lucy Koh for the Northern District of California found that plaintiff failed to offer evidence that Dole’s labels were likely to deceive consumers. Although plaintiff argued that “man-made ingredients” like citric and ascorbic acid “would not normally be expected to be in food,” the court concluded that he failed to provide evidence “that a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled” by Dole’s “all natural fruit” label. The court also noted that plaintiff’s expert reports contained “no evidence of a likelihood of deception” and although plaintiff himself testified that he was misled by the label, “a few isolated examples of actual deception are insufficient to survive summary judgment.”
For more information, please see Brazil v. Dole Food Co. Inc. et al., case no. 5:12-cv-01831, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.