There were a record 220 lawsuits filed against food and beverage companies in the United States last year, an increase from 45 a decade earlier, according to Perkins Coie LLP, a law firm that defends false labeling cases and tracks legal trends in those industries.
Seven complaints filed in 2020 challenged some aspect of a company’s animal welfare practices and terms such as “humane” or “free range.”
Ten cases involved place or origin claims, with the suits alleging consumers were misled on where a product was grown or raised.
“Decisions in 2020 suggested that challenges to bioengineered or other allegedly unnatural ingredients remain viable, while ‘natural’ cases attacking the presence of trace pesticides are consistently met with disfavor by the federal courts,” Perkins Coie said.
Advocates contend a regulatory void has food producers using words such as “natural” and “wholesome” to mislead consumers looking for humanely raised and sustainable protein and dairy products, according to a report this week by the New York Times.
Ben & Jerry’s, for instance, last year agreed to drop claims on its ice cream that the frozen treats came from “happy cows.”