For many, the new year means a clean start with a healthy diet, which may include more organic products. But what if some organic items aren’t 100 percent organic as declared in their labels? What if they weren’t actually produced with only organic ingredients and didn’t use sustainable practices and avoid synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation or genetic engineering? For the California Supreme Court, which recently reinstituted a class action lawsuit that focused on the accuracy of these 100 percent organic labels, “labels matter.”
Per the ruling in Michelle Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., Michelle Quesada purchased Herb Thyme herbs at a premium, believing them to be 100 percent organic. When she believed the company — a large herb-growing operation with multiple farms in California —mixed both organic and non-organic herbs yet labeled their herbs otherwise, she filed a class and representative action. Her lawsuit “challenges as false advertising and unfair competition Herb Thyme‘s practice of selling conventionally grown herbs under an organic label.”
Per attorney Christopher Cole in a post on FindLaw, Quesada’s suit was thrown out by two lower courts, which ruled that “organic labeling was the purview of state and federal officials, and consumer lawsuits were barred in state court.” Herb Thyme Farms stated, “If a lone consumer can second-guess the USDA’s certification, and a grower cannot rely on its federal authorization to use the term, the already high cost of production of such products will skyrocket, or more likely, there will be no organic products to enjoy.”
The California Supreme Court did not agree with the two lower courts and contended that these very cases would actually contribute to congressional efforts toward label accuracy.
As Cole stated, this ruling is significant because now consumers can “bring unfair competition lawsuits in state court if manufacturers or sellers misuse the ‘organic’ designation on food or produce.”
We will see if such organic labeling cases do grow as a result.