A panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 17 on an appeal from summary judgment in a case filed by pomegranate juice maker POM Wonderful against the Coca-Cola Company’s Minute Maid division. The dispute was over a Minute Maid pomegranate-blueberry juice blend that POM alleged misrepresented itself on its label as containing a far higher proportion of pomegranate juice than was present in the beverage. According to POM, this overselling of pomegranate falsely communicated to consumers that the juice blend conferred the unique health benefits of pomegranate juice — benefits which, themselves, have been heavily advertised by POM but called into question by the FTC and litigants. POM’s deceptive labeling claims against other marketers of juice products touched off a network of related competitor, class action, and FTC cases that have become known as the "Juice Wars".

Coca-Cola successfully moved for summary judgment on the ground that FDA regulations issued under the Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act comprehensively govern the content of juice labeling, including permitting marketers of juice blends to identify the products through the juice name and pictures by the juices that provide their characterizing flavors, regardless of whether these juices predominate by volume. Affirming, the Ninth Circuit panel concluded that "Pom’s challenge to the name ‘Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices’ would create a conflict with FDA regulations and would require us to undermine the FDA’s apparent determination that so naming the product is not misleading" and that " forc[ing] Coca-Cola to alter the size of the words on its labeling so that the words “Pomegranate Blueberry” no longer appear in larger, more conspicuous type on Coca-Cola’s label than do the words ‘Flavored Blend of 5 Juices’ … would again undermine the FDA’s regulations and expert judgments." Under the preclusion doctrine, the challenge was therefore barred.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Pulps POM Wonderful’s Lanham Act Claims Against Coca-Cola, Affirming FDA Preclusion of Challenge to Regulated Food Labeling

Continuing with the recent trend of dismissing false advertising complaints premised on a “prior substantiation” theory or granting summary judgment to defendants in such cases where the plaintiff fails to demonstrate affirmatively that a challenged advertising statement is false, in Stanley v. Bayer Healthcare, LLC, No. 3:11-cv-00862, 2012 WL 1132920 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 3, 2012), the Southern District of California held that an alleged lack of substantiation for an advertising representation is not sufficient to state a claim for violation of the California Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) or Consumer Legal Remedies Act (“CLRA”), or for breach of express warranty.

In Stanley, the plaintiff asserted that Bayer’s advertising claims for its “Phillips’ Colon Health Probiotic” (“PCH”) line of supplements, including that the products supported a healthy immune system, violated the UCL and CLRA because the health benefit claims “are not substantiated by the vast majority of generally accepted scientific literature currently available relating to probiotics.” The plaintiff also alleged that PCH labeling and advertising constituted express warranties and that Bayer breached those warranties. Bayer moved for summary judgment, arguing that “Plaintiff has not offered any evidence supporting her claim that [Bayer’s] advertising and packaging of [PCH] is deceptive, untrue, or misleading.” Bayer also argued that the plaintiff’s complaint was based entirely upon an alleged failure to substantiate, which is not actionable under California law. The Southern District of California agreed with Bayer and granted summary judgment on all of the plaintiff’s claims.

Continue Reading Recent Decision Applies Prior Substantiation Doctrine to Bar False Advertising Claims Based on Lack of Substantiation

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), in the last couple of years, has made clear that it expects advertisers making strong cause-and-effect claims (e.g., “Lose weight,” “Helps prevent irregularity”) to possess, at a minimum, at least one well-designed and reliable clinical study. Yet, at the same time, FTC staff—those who conduct FTC investigations—have made statements that

On February 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Agriculture Marketing Service (“AMS”) published draft guidance clarifying how exemptions and exclusions from certification as a producer or handler of organic food products apply to handling operations. Under USDA regulations governing the production and handling of products labeled as “100 percent organic,” “organic,” or “made with organic [specified ingredients],” handling operations must be certified by a certifying agent accredited by the USDA. Handling operations include any operation or portion of an operation–except for final retailers that do not process the products–that receives or acquires agricultural products for processing, packaging, or storing. Section 205.101 of USDA regulations exempts handling operations from certification if they receive in and ship out products in the same container without opening, relabeling or otherwise handling the products. In October 2010, the National Organic Standards Board (“NOSB”)–a board consisting of members of the agricultural community that advises the USDA about organic food products–recommended that the USDA clarify section 205.101’s exemption limitations.

Continue Reading USDA Issues Draft Guidance Regarding the National Organic Program

The Agriculture Marketing Service of the United States Department of Agriculture announced an agreement reached with Canada’s Food Inspection Agency that will provide U.S. organic dairy, beef, sheep, goat and bison producers with more streamlined access to the Canadian market. Canada now considers U.S. organic requirements for access to pasture and living conditions to be

On January 25, 2012, the Food Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) issued a final rule that substantially modifies the menu planning and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The rule, which is intended to improve the dietary habits of school children in grades K-12