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Private Surgeon General Class Action Defender

General Mills Points to Ingredient List in Defense of “100% Natural” Claims

Posted in False Advertising Claims, Motion to Dismiss, Organic, Standing

General Mills recently filed a motion to dismiss a putative class action accusing the company of falsely advertising its popular Nature Valley granola products as “100% natural.”  Chin et al. v. General Mills, Inc., Case No. 12-cv-2150-MJD-TML (D. Minn.).  The crux of plaintiffs’ claims is that the granola is not “100% natural” because it contains high-fructose corn syrup, high-maltose corn syrup, and/or maltodextrin.

In its motion, General Mills first takes plaintiffs to task for junk science:

“Plaintiffs’ theory of liability is premised on their distinction between processed and highly processed corn.  Corn starch is itself processed.  It does not grow out of the ground, but is created through the process of milling.  But milling, in Plaintiffs’ view, does not produce a ‘non-natural’ ingredient.  It is the additional step of treating the corn starch with enzymes that Plaintiffs assert crosses the threshold from processed to ‘highly processed,’ and from natural to non-natural.  The Complaint does not cite any scientific authority for this distinction.”

General Mills then points to its ingredient list, arguing that because plaintiffs’ claims rely on the front of the product packaging, the court can take notice of the rest of the packaging as well.  Significantly, the ingredient list clearly lists each of the offending ingredients for all consumers to see.  Whether that argument will be sufficient to win the day remains to be seen.  Other courts have rejected similar arguments, as discussed in our prior blog post here.

General Mills also argued that the plaintiffs lack Article III standing to sue over products they never purchased.  See our prior blog post here for a discussion of how that defense is playing out in the courts.