Hormel Foods, which recently purchased natural nut butter brand Justin’s, is facing a lawsuit over misuse of the word “natural” on several of its lunch meats and bacon products, marketed under the Hormel Natural Choice label.
The lawsuit, filed last week by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), claims that Hormel is intentionally misleading consumers about its products by using the word “natural” in marketing campaigns and product labels.
"The lawsuit is aimed at the misleading picture that Hormel is projecting through its advertising campaign," said Kelsey Eberly, staff attorney for the ALDF, which is based in Cotati, Calif. "They are painting this picture of a family farm where animals go to pasture and aren't given antibiotic drugs."
But that’s not the case at all, says ALDF—the animals are "raised on industrial, pharmaceutical-dependent factory farms," a scene that’s anything but natural.
Hormel dismissed the lawsuit in a statement, stating that it is "confident that this lawsuit is without merit,” and reiterated that its products are all produced and marketed in accordance with FDA and USDA regulations.
"The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has specifically reviewed and approved the labels for Hormel Natural Choice branded products, including scrutinizing and approving the 'natural' and 'preservative'-related language," the company said.
But this isn’t the first lawsuit to take aim at the use of the word “natural,” which, unlike USDA certified organic products, is an unregulated term that has been at the center of numerous lawsuits over its misuse.
“About 60 percent of U.S. consumers believe the natural label on meat and poultry means that no artificial ingredients or colors were added, no artificial growth hormones were used, no genetically-modified organisms or artificial ingredients were in the animals' feed, and no antibiotics or other drugs were used,” reports the Star Tribune, even though there are no federal regulations on the term.
The FDA recently received several citizen petitions, along with numerous court cases over the term, requesting the agency define the term. It’s currently reviewing comments from both consumers and corporations about how to move forward with regulations, if any, for “natural” claims on food.
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