Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Lawsuits Allege Earth’s Best and Similac Organic Infant Formulas Violate Organic Standards

Federal court in New York says – for the first time – consumers can sue over violations of organic law

I am often asked, can we trust the USDA organic seal? My answer is for the most part yes, because it’s based on clearly defined legal standards, as opposed to say, the word “natural.” But two class action lawsuits against leading makers of organic infant formula are making me rethink that answer. One case is against Abbott Laboratories alleging its Similac Advance organic infant formula contains 26 (more than half) ingredients not allowed in organic products; specifically: “irradiated substances, synthetic compounds, or produced from hazardous substances.”

The other case, perhaps more disturbingly, accuses natural food giant Hain Celestial Group of false and misleading labeling by violating the organic standards with its Earth’s Best Organic infant formula, along with numerous other products. (Both cases were filed in New York, the plaintiffs live in New York and California.) From the complaint:

Behind the picturesque red barn of the Earth’s Best logo lies a chemical soup. Of the 48 ingredients in Earth’s Best Organic Infant Formula more than half – 26 are not permitted in organic foods by federal law. More than three-fourths – 38 of the ingredients are synthetic compounds, including artificial flavors, artificial preservatives, artificial colors, toxic compounds, and hazardous substances.

Earth’s Best Organic formula dominates the organic formula market with 65% dollar share. The judge in that case recently made an important legal ruling that could significantly impact future litigation regarding organic products. In its defense, Hain Celestial tried to claim that the federal Organic Foods Production Act preempts or trumps the state-based consumer deception claims made by the plaintiffs. (Preemption is an common defense in lawsuits like this.) But the judge didn’t buy it, denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss and allowing the case to move forward. In doing so, the court said:

[T]his Court rejects the premise that once a certifying agency has passed on a product’s organic status, a state-law verdict may not deem the sale or labeling of that product as “organic” false or misleading.

This ruling is important because it allows for a private right of action under state consumer protection laws for alleged violations of federal organic standards. In an apparent attempt at damage control, Hain Celestial put out a press release on Monday claiming its “full line of Certified USDA Organic Formulas [is] made with pure, high quality ingredients for babies and toddlers.” The release also notes: “The organic formula industry continues to grow and is relied on by parents deeply.” That much is true. That’s why it’s especially troubling if parents have been deceived into feeding their babies formula labeled certified organic that in fact contains numerous unapproved ingredients.

(Disclosure: I occasionally consult with one of the law firms involved; I was not paid to write this.)

Media Coverage for Plant Foods Coalition and Dietary Guidelines

As I posted earlier this week, I submitted comments on behalf of new coalition of plant food companies to support the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recommendations to lower red meat and processed meats and increased plant foods. I am pleased that the following media outlets picked on this story. More at: LessMeatMorePlants.com

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New Plant Foods Coalition Enters Dietary Guidelines Debate

Logos_Plant_Foods_Coalition_DGA_LetterEvery sector of the food industry–most of them unhealthy–has something to say about how Americans should eat. But we rarely hear the voices of healthier food companies in shaping the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. I organized this new coalition of plant food companies to help fill that void.

Research shows that more consumers are decreasing their meat consumption and turning to plant-based options. Therefore, it’s time for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (revised every five years) to encourage this trend toward healthy eating. Today, this new food industry coalition submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, in response to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s report, making these main points:

  • We agree with the advisory committee that additional measures are needed to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.
  • We support the advisory committee’s conclusion that the dietary guidelines should include a recommendation to “lower red and processed meats.”
  • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans should specifically recommend eating plant protein sources such as legumes, soy foods, wheat gluten, seeds, and nuts, in place of red and processed meats. 
  • Claims that red meat and processed meats are “nutrient dense” are misleading because they ignore all the harmful components of meat, and the fact that plants are often nutritionally superior.
  • We endorse the advisory committee’s recognition of sustainability as an essential component of federal dietary guidance, and that a shift away from animal foods towards a plant-based diet “is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact.”

You can read the entire letter (or the summary) and learn more about the coalition members at: www.LessMeatMorePlants.com. You can also submit your own comments before the May 8 deadline here.

Tell the feds: “Yes to less meat, more plants”

Science and public health could finally prevail in federal dietary advice

Every five years the federal government updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The idea is to help Americans eat right, while informing nutrition standards for food assistance programs such as school meals. The “Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee” (DGAC) has spent the past two years reviewing research and holding public hearings. The process is rigorous and the committee is not exactly radical.

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Making Sense of Seals of Approval

These days health-conscious consumers are increasingly seeking out food products not only with fewer ingredients and a “clean label”, but also foods produced in a manner that minimizes harm to the environment, among other ethical business practices. And it’s not enough to claim your product is healthy or sustainable with just words; to get that much-needed boost in a highly competitive marketplace, many food companies are spending the extra money to obtain third-party certification for various claims.

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Offering new legal services with The Food Law Firm

Food and Beverage Marketing: Beyond Compliance

Over the past 18 years as a lawyer and public health advocate, I have scrutinized the ways that food companies use misleading or illegal marketing to unfairly influence consumers. I will continue to call out these deceptive practices as long as the industry continues to use them.

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Have the Feds Made School Food Worse with Government-Approved Junk?

Last week I attended the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting in Boston, a gathering of the nation’s school food service workers. While most of the controversy lately has focused on the federally-required improvements to nutrition standards for school lunches, getting lost in the shuffle are new standards coming online this fall for school snacks and beverages. Read rest at TIME.com …

School Food Lobby Flip-flops on Healthy School Lunches

School Nutrition Association includes such Big Food sponsors as PepsiCo, Domino’s and Muffin Town.

Perhaps the most visible advocate for improving school food, Michelle Obama is now defending what shouldn’t be such a controversial idea: adding fruits and vegetables to public school lunches. Ask any nutrition expert what foods Americans — especially kids — need more of in their diet, and the answer would be the same: fresh produce. But some Republicans, such as Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, never seem to miss an opportunity to turn a no-brainer into a political battle, particularly when it comes to school food. (Who can forget the pizza as a vegetable debacle?) And just in time to give them the necessary cover, they got a gift from an unlikely source. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has asked Congress to approve waiver requests for schools that are struggling to comply with federal nutrition regulations aimed at improving children’s health.

Read rest at Al Jazeera America …

Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods

coverThe United States is in the midst of a public health epidemic due to poor diet. While much of the focus has been on obvious culprits such as sugary soft drinks and fast food, dairy foods often get a pass. The dairy industry, propped up by government, has convinced us of the health benefits of milk and other dairy products. But the context of how people consume dairy matters.

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USDA’s Proposal on Food Marketing in Schools Could Harm Children

Today, on behalf of Corporate Accountability International and in collaboration with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, I submitted the following comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding its proposal to require schools to only allow marketing for those foods allowed under the agency’s “Smart Snacks” nutrition guidelines. (See also the excellent comments submitted by Public Health Advocacy Institute on junk food products created for schools.)

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