SAN JOSE – The cereal company Post Foods has been hit with a
class-action lawsuit over its use of the word “natural” on branding and
advertisements of Shredded Wheat.
The complaint was filed in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California on June 22 by Andy Wu; two other suits were filed against Post on the same day
in Washington, D.C. and in New York for the company’s “natural” labeling.
In his complaint, Wu charges that Post’s claims that Shredded
Wheat is “100% Natural” are “false, deceptive, and misleading,” due to the fact
that their cereal allegedly contains a chemical called glyphosate.
Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide that most Americans
would recognize as the primary ingredient in Roundup weed killer. It has been deemed
“probably carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization, inspiring pushback
from the company Monsanto, which produces Roundup.
The Organic Consumers Association, which filed the D.C.
lawsuit, claims that tests conducted in a California lab showed that glyphosate
was found in Shredded Wheat samples at 0.18 parts per million. These levels are
below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for the herbicide in
parts per million.
Kim Richman of The Richman Law Group, which represents OCA in the suit, said in a press release, “Consumers don’t expect a product labeled ‘natural’ to contain a chemical that has been classified by the World Health Organization as a ‘probable’ human carcinogen."
Wu acknowledges in his complaint that “there is nothing
unlawful about Shredded Wheat’s growing and processing methods,” but asserts
that its use of the word “natural” is.
In his complaint,
Wu stated that he was willing to pay more for this cereal because he “expected
it to be pesticide-free.”
Wu’s is not the first class-action lawsuit to take on the
use of the word “natural” in food advertising, with companies including Kashi
and Jamba Juice recently settling similar lawsuits. A similar case has been filed against Quaker Oats for its use of the word "natural" despite the presence of glyphosate - that plaintiff is also represented by the Richman Law Group.
However, the proper definition and usage of the word remains
nebulous. Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked
for the public’s help in determining whether and how the agency should
officially define the term.
Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of
California, told the Northern California
Record that this lack of definition puts businesses at a disadvantage.
“In the absence of clear guidelines for companies… it puts
them in a ‘gotcha’ situation,” she said.
Food-related lawsuits are so common in Northern California that the
district has earned the moniker “the food court” among attorneys and those in
“Class actions were really, in their ideal form, designed to
right egregious wrongs,” Stone said, citing Brown v. Board of Education. “This
kind of thing – there may or may not have been one more ingredient in my
Shredded Wheat – just doesn’t feel like the same level of injustice to me.”
In 2015, the American Bar Association examined
dozens of recent food litigation cases and found that “there is no real trend in terms of whether these cases are
more favorable for one side of the bar or the other.”
Post Holdings did not respond to a request for comment on