cheerios

As food manufacturers face a sea of lawsuits in recent years over false advertising and marketing claims, large food brands, including General Mills’ Cheerios, have created a fairly foolproof weapon against more legal tangles: “Like” them on Facebook and you give up your right to sue.

General Mills quietly made the change to its website, stating that joining any of the brand’s social media communities such as liking its Cheerios, Chex or Betty Crocker Facebook pages, or downloading coupons or entering company sponsored contests, would serve to signify that the consumer waived their rights to sue the brand.

“Instead, anyone who has received anything that could be construed as a benefit and who then has a dispute with the company over its products will have to use informal negotiation via email or go through arbitration to seek relief,” Stephanie Strom reported for the New York Times. And after The New York Times contacted General Mills about the changes, the company “seemed to go even further,” Strom wrote, “suggesting that buying its products would bind consumers to those terms.”

The change to General Mills’ legal terms came not long after a California judge refused to dismiss a case against the company for claims that it deceptively marketed its Nature Valley products as “natural” when the products actually contained GMOs and highly processed ingredients.

By making the announcement that it’s moving its customers towards arbitrations, General Mills has become “one of the first, if not the first, major food companies to seek to impose what legal experts call ‘forced arbitration’ on consumers,” explained Strom. More companies are sure to follow; Julia Duncan, director of federal programs and an arbitration expert at the American Association for Justice, a trade group representing plaintiff trial lawyers, told the Times, “why wouldn’t you?”

In 2013, General Mills paid $8.5 million in lawsuit settlements over health claims made on the packaging of its Yoplait Yoplus yogurt. In 2012, it settled a suit for using “strawberry” on its Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups even though it did not contain any strawberries.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image via Cheerios