“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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