Wednesday, September 29, 2021

"natural" claims still going strong; scientific testing not required in pleading

Barton v. Pret A Manger (USA) Ltd., --- F.Supp.3d ----, 2021 WL 1664319 1:20-cv-04815 GHW (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 27, 2021)

Plaintiff plausibly alleged that the references to “natural ingredients” and “natural food” on defendant’s products’ packaging were likely to lead a reasonable consumer to wrongly believe that these products contain exclusively natural (not synthetic) ingredients and that they are free of GMOs. Thus, consumer protection claims under Sections 349 and 350 of the New York General Business Law are adequately pleaded though other tort and warranty claims failed.

Of note: plaintiff wasn’t required to plead the existence of scientific testing that demonstrates that the products contained GMOs. “Defendant points to no case law that supports its extraordinary argument that the Court should not accept as true the pleaded facts unless they are supported by scientific studies.” Prior cases are distinguishable because they alleged that most of the X grown in the US was genetically modified, but didn’t allege that the defendants in those cases used the genetically modified ingredients, as the complaint did here.

Pret argued that no reasonable consumer could be deceived by Pret’s use of the word “natural,” as “federal regulations permit foods labeled as ‘organic’ to contain all but one of Plaintiff’s challenged substances.” But the court couldn’t find, as a matter of law, that a reasonable consumer couldn’t reasonably “expect that a product labeled ‘natural’ or ‘all natural’ contains only natural ingredients,”  even if “foods labeled ‘organic’ may lawfully contain some synthetic ingredients. There is no rigid hierarchy that makes ‘natural’ a more permissive label than ‘organic’ in all respects as a matter of law.”


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