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Federal Judge Finds Claims Too Speculative and Dismisses “Natural” Peanut Butter Class Action

On March 31, an Ohio federal judge dismissed a proposed class action lawsuit which alleged that J.M. Smucker Co. misleadingly labeled peanut butter as “natural” even though it may have contained sugar derived from genetically modified beets.  The complaint was dismissed because the “consumers’ claims were too speculative and insufficient to show that a reasonable consumer would be misled.”

In the order, U.S. District Judge John R. Adams said that plaintiff Graham Forsher did not allege that the Jif brand natural peanut butter was actually genetically modified, but only that one of the product’s ingredients may have been. Forsher did not provide any facts showing that the Jif peanut butter contained sugar derived from genetically modified beets, but rather simply alleged that half of the sugar production in the US comes from sugar beets. He similarly did not show that sugar actually contains any bioengineered material. Forsher argued that where food is made with ingredients possibly derived from bioengineered food, it is misleading to label the product as “natural.”

Judge Adams also took issue with Forsher’s failure to state adequate facts to back his assertion that genetically modified sugar beets are unnatural: “Alleging that food is created in a lab ‘utilizing different modern scientific techniques’ is not the same as alleging that ingredients are unnatural. Plaintiff does not claim that GMO-derived sugar beets are chemically created. Plaintiff also does not point to a specific statute or regulation that would deem GMO-derived sugar beets as unnatural. Defendant has complied with the FDA’s policies and regulations regarding product labeling to the extent the sugar in the Products is derived from GMO sugar beets.”

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Keller and Heckman offers global food and drug services to its clients. Our comprehensive and extensive food and drug practice is one of the largest in the world. We promote, protect, and defend products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and Member States authorities in the European Union (EU) and similar authorities throughout the world. The products we help get to market include foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, veterinary products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. In addition...