Judge dismisses case against General Mills’ use of trans fats

By Claudia Balthazar | Dec 16, 2018

General Mills Factory   Wikimedia/Nyttend

SAN FRANCISCO — An American cereal company was under fire with a class-action suit claiming that General Mills uses trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in their baking mix products, but a judge granted a motion to dismiss.

According to the case, Troy Backus v. General Mills Inc., at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Backus’ claims were dismissed with prejudice by District Judge William H. Orrick.

At first, Backus sued General Mills for nuisance and breach of an implied warranty of merchantability claiming that the major food corporation violated certain rules under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL). Thelton Henderson, the original judge on the case, granted a motion to keep Backus’ UCL claim, but dismissed all other allegations.

Back in Nov. 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that PHOs could be sold without being approved by a premarket, making it a “generally safe” product for human consumption, but received backlash from the public. After that, the FDA asked for scientific evidence to prove that partially hydrogenated oils are generally safe, or unsafe, by June 18, 2018.

The Hon. Henderson allowed for the case to stay because the FDA never said the food product was in fact, unsafe, it just needed more testing. PHOs were then to be determined unsafe after the June 2018 date.

Meanwhile, General Mills claimed that it is protected from Backus’ claims because PHOs couldn’t be considered illegal until after the June 2018 compliance date. Backus said that PHOs were considered unsafe before the date under California law stating that both federal and state laws compliances were unclear. He also stated that he filed suit before General Mills could be protected under the FDA’s decision.

Even though Backus' claims align with California law, PHOs were allowed in food prior to June 18, 2018 by the FDA. Anything after that date would be in violation of the federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).

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