General Mills Must Face Groups’ Suit Over Glyphosate Residue

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By Julie A. Steinberg

General Mills, Inc. must face, for now, a suit alleging it deceptively touts Nature Valley granola products as “100 percent Natural Whole Grain Oats” when they contain detectable levels of the weed-killer chemical glyphosate ( Organic Consumers Ass’n v. General Mills, Inc. , D.C. Super. Ct., No. CA 6309, 7/6/17 ).

The Organic Consumers Association, Moms Across America, and Beyond Pesticides have standing, or a basis, to bring their suit as “private attorneys general” on behalf of the public, the District of Columbia Superior Court said July 6.

The suit alleging General Mills violated the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law is one of a growing number of food labeling suits brought by consumer advocacy groups rather than by individual plaintiffs.

It’s also part of an increasing number of consumer suits that take issue with a “natural” label on a food that allegedly contains residue of a pesticide or other chemical.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto Co.'s Roundup, is used as a drying agent on the oat crop to produce an earlier harvest, the suit says.

There is controversy over the health effects of glyphosate, including whether it can cause cancer.

FDA Mulls Action

The court also refused to dismiss the General Mills case or put it on hold while the Food and Drug Administration mulls whether to regulate the use of “natural” on food labels.

The deception questions can be answered without agency expertise, the court said: This case is less about science than about whether a label is misleading.

The court also cited an expected long FDA timeline as reason to let the case proceed.

The FDA sought public input on the use of “natural” on food labels in November 2015. The comment period ended in May 2016.

General Mills offered no suggestion that any agency action is forthcoming and there is no reason to assume it will be, the opinion said.

The Richman Law Group represented the consumer groups.

Perkins Coie represented General Mills.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie A. Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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