Heinz is the latest manufacturer targeted in a false advertising lawsuit over claims that it misrepresented a product as "all natural" when it actually contained genetically modified ingredients.
The complaint, filed in California earlier this week, alleges that the best-selling ketchup brand's Distilled White Vinegar is not a natural product, despite being marketed that way.
According to FoodNavigator, plaintiff Debbie Banafsheha's complaint said that Heinz's "all natural" claims about the vinegar are "false, deceptive, misleading and unfair to consumers, who are injured in fact by purchasing products that [Heinz] claims are 'all natural' when in fact they are not."
Without any labeling requirements for genetically modified ingredients in the U.S., Heinz does not claim its product contains GMOs, but reports FoodNavigator, Banafsheda's complaint says that it likely is because "more than 70% of corn grown in the U.S. is GM."
The complaint notes: "[Heinz] sources its ingredients from U.S. commodity suppliers who supply GM crops. Large volume food manufacturers who wish to use non-GM ingredients must specifically source their crops, typically from Europe, or undertake the additional step and expense of purchasing and verifying the supply from non-GM growers through identity preservation programs.
"In most instances, manufacturers who purchase only non-GM crops for their products specifically label their products non-GMO."
A Heinz representative told FoodNavigator that it is "a groundless lawsuit and we look forward to vigorously defending our product."
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If similar suits are an indicator of what the decision might be in this case, however, Heinz could find itself needing to make restitution and/or changing its product packaging.
Many brands have started moving away from using the word "natural" on product packaging and promotional materials as a result of the consumer backlash. Despite the absence of any federal regulations on the use of the term "natural" on foods that contain artificial or genetically modified ingredients, several similar suits have either ended in a judgment for the plaintiff or a settlement agreement. PepsiCo recently settled a suit filed against its Naked Juice brand for misuse of the word natural. In addition to removing the word from its products, the brand is also paying out $9 million to consumers who bought the mislabeled products.
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