Wendel Rosen Food & Beverage Law BLog

New Year’s Resolution – Avoid Class Action Lawyers

Resolutions on a piece of paper with a pen

Public Domain

Is it odd for a lawyer to write a blogpost about how to avoid lawyers?  Not at all. We hate to see claims of misrepresentation made against our clients by plaintiff’s class action attorneys. Typically, their claims have little merit and mean only wasted time, money and energy.

The goal of the class action attorneys is to extract the largest ransom with the least work. Anyone with a computer can generate rafts of “cut and paste” demand letters and complaints. They usually try to exploit vagueness in the law, often using professional plaintiffs who show up in scores of copycat lawsuits.

Enough diatribe! Your New Year’s resolution should be to stay away from class action attorneys in 2018. Here are some guidelines that will help you do that. We’ll have more posts on the subject as the year progresses.

Prop. 65: California Prop. 65 requires that you make disclosures on your labels if your product contains more than specified limits of identified chemicals. If you are selling in California, look at the list of chemicals on the Prop. 65 list. Now find a qualified lab that can test samples of your product runs for Prop. 65 chemicals and get the testing done. I can assure you that if your product category (chocolate – for example) is known for having trace elements of Prop. 65 chemicals, there are plaintiff’s lawyers who are testing your product. You should know the results of those tests before they do. If your product does have amounts of these chemicals that require Prop. 65 notices, it may be cheaper to put notices on your packages than it is to reformulate. It will certainly be cheaper than settling a class action claim for failure to include a Prop. 65 notice.

“Natural”: “Natural” is an accepted term to describe the marketplace. The largest industry event is “Natural Products Expo West.” The main retail publication is the “Natural Foods Merchandiser.” Food stores, whether independent or parts of a chain,  are referred to as “Natural Food Stores.” However, just because “natural” is used by the industry and the public to describe minimally processed foods does not mean it should have a home on your label. There’s no legal definition of “natural.” In 2015, in response to industry requests, the FDA asked for comment about whether “natural” should be defined and, if so, how. After receiving many comments, the FDA did nothing then. Last year, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said that the FDA is now looking at how to define “healthy” and “natural” more uniformly. “Natural” claims are one of the largest source of class action suits. Until “natural” has a clear legal definition and you are sure that your product meets it, don’t put the word on your label. It’s as simple as that.

“Healthy”: Is your product healthy? Of course it is. Would you be selling a food product that is unhealthy?  Of course not. Would you be advertising “Now, Even More Unhealthy In Convenient Family Pak?” Of course not. Unlike “natural,” the FDA does have a definition for “healthy.” However, the definition must be used carefully. It is out of date, contrary to current nutritional science and is under review. The FDA is reconsidering the definition and, last year, agreed that KIND bar could continue using “healthy” on its labels even though KIND bars exceeded the amount of fat allowed in the FDA definition. Our best advice is not to use the word “healthy” until there is a new definition. However, it you feel compelled to use it, find out if your product satisfies the requirements.

That’s it for now. I hope this New Year’s resolution comes true for you. See you at the Specialty Food Show or EXPO West.

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