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California Courts Open Door for State Regulation on 'Natural' Claims

Feb 17, 2009

Two district courts in California ruled earlier this month that no federal preemption exists for "all natural" claims under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) or the congressional amendments that later modified the act. IDFA believes the court findings leave the door open for states to develop their own definition for "all natural" products, which could potentially affect a broad range of food products and ingredients.

The United States District Courts for the Northern and Southern Districts of California, ruling on consecutive days, also said it is misleading for a manufacturer to advertise a product as "all natural" when it contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The courts ruled in favor of the consumer class-action lawsuits brought against ConAgra Foods, Inc. and Arizona Beverage Co. The companies offer products containing HFCS that are marketed as "all natural."

"IDFA is concerned that these rulings could allow for different definitions for 'natural' claims in California and in other states around the country," said Michelle Matto, IDFA assistant director of nutrition and labeling. "It's possible that consumers may now petition states to set varied, more restrictive definitions for 'all natural' products."

The FD&C Act gives FDA the responsibility to protect the public health by ensuring that foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled. Congress amended the act by enacting the National Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) to clarify and strengthen FDA's authority to require nutrition labeling on foods and to establish how claims about nutrients in foods may be made.

ConAgra and Arizona Beverage argued unsuccessfully that their product claims were expressly preempted under the FD&C Act or NLEA.

Most labeling and standards issues are federally preempted, Matto said, but there are no federal regulations for the "all natural" designation and therefore, no federal preemption. The Food and Drug Administration has declined to set regulations on these claims, opting instead to issue guidance language.

For now, IDFA continues to recommend that members follow FDA's guidance language for "all natural" claims. Members with questions may contact Matto at or (202) 737-4332.

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