Last month we highlighted a tentative decision out of the Northern District of California that contemplated a stay of proceedings in the Cox v. Gruma Corp. (Case No. 12-CV-6502 YGR) matter while the FDA is asked to decide whether food products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be labeled “natural” or “all natural.” (See prior post here.) In a final order issued on July 11, 2013, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers followed through on her tentative decision—referring the question to the FDA and issuing a six-month stay to give the agency a chance to weigh in.
Whether the FDA will respond favorably to the court’s request for final resolution of this issue is hard to predict—although if the FDA declines to respond, it won’t be the first time. In 2010, a New Jersey federal court judge stayed a food-labeling suit against Hornell Brewing Co. Inc., and asked the FDA to determine whether products that contain high-fructose corn syrup may be labeled “natural.” The FDA declined the court’s invitation and refused to offer any further guidance.
Since that time, food-labeling litigation has exploded in popularity, particularly in the Northern District of California, where courts have been somewhat more receptive to the claims asserted by plaintiffs. The question of whether GMO-containing products can be labeled “all natural” is just one of many issues the courts are being asked to resolve in these cases. Whether other courts will follow Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ lead has yet to be seen.