whole foods

Legal action against Whole Foods Market over “all natural” claims will not be dismissed, a California judge has ruled.

The lawsuit, originally filed in November 2013 by plaintiffs Mary Garrison et al accuses the natural food grocery chain of misleading and unlawful labeling on muffins and other baked goods sold in the stores that contained Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (SAPP).

According to Food Navigator, SAPP is a synthetic ingredient used as a leavening agent. Garrison says that marketing with “all natural” claims is deceptive.

On June 2nd, US district judge Vince Chhabria “rejected arguments that the ‘all-natural’ claims were pre-empted by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act,” explains Food Navigator.

Judge Chhabria stated: “FDA has repeatedly declined to adopt formal regulations regarding the meaning of the word natural…There is no clear indication the agency intends to revisit this decision any time soon.”

Whole Foods says that Garrison hasn’t proved that the company’s labeling would be likely to deceive customers, but Judge Chhabria disagreed, saying that customers “could interpret the words ‘all natural’ to exclude synthetic compounds such as SAPP, and therefore be misled by Whole Foods’ labeling.” However, Judge Chhabria rejected Garrison’s claims for unjust enrichment and injunctive relief, which would not force the supermarket chain to change its labels.

In a controversial decision, the judge also found that Garrison et al had grounds to bring claims “on behalf of class members who purchased any of six allegedly mislabeled Whole Foods products,” even though she had only purchased three items herself, reports Food Navigator.

This is the latest case against a retailer for misuse of “all natural” claims. Another California judge gave the go-ahead in February on a $3.4 million settlement against Trader Joe’s for false advertising of products as “100% natural” when they contained ingredients including ascorbic acid, xanthan gum, cocoa processed with alkali, vegetable mono- and diglycerides as well as SAPP.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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