Moms Across America, Organic Consumers Association and Beyond Pesticides announced Monday that the District of Columbia Superior Court has rejected General Mills' motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the three nonprofits against the maker of Nature Valley granola bars. The recent ruling upholds the right of nonprofits to bring these types of complaints against corporations. It also reinforces the notion that consumers can reasonably expect a product labeled "100% Natural" to be free of herbicides.
These three nonprofit groups sued General Mills in August 2016, for misleading the public by labeling Nature Valley brand granola bars as "Made with 100% NATURAL whole grain OATS" after tests revealed the presence of the chemical herbicide glyphosate, an ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup and hundreds of other glyphosate-based herbicides. The suit was brought on behalf of the nonprofits' members in Washington, DC, under the District of Columbia's Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
"This is a huge win for consumers," said Organic Consumers Association's international director Ronnie Cummins. "In making this ruling, the judge reinforced the right of consumers to have reasonable expectations about what a company means by 'natural.' The 'natural' food industry is estimated at $90 billion a year. By slapping the word 'natural' on products that contain pesticides and other unnatural substances, corporations deceive consumers, and cut into the market share for authentically labeled healthy and certified organic products."
Key findings from the DC Superior Court ruling include:
- The Court recognized that the 2012 Amendments to the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) may have expanded the means by which nonprofits may bring representative actions.
- The Court rejected General Mills' argument that courts should defer to the FDA on possible future ruling re: "natural" food labeling, holding that it was up to the courts to decide what is or isn't misleading to consumers.
- The Court also noted that it does not appear likely that the FDA will issue a ruling on "natural" anytime soon—rejecting a common argument made by so many food producers seeking to avoid liability for their misrepresentations.
- The Court held that a reasonable jury could find that General Mills' "Made With 100% Natural Whole Grain Oats" claims were misleading to consumers.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, agrees. "In this case, consumer law is critical to rein in companies that deceive consumers with 'natural' labeling when their products contain ingredients that are grown with pesticides," Feldman said.