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Consumers can Sue over Organic Food Mislabeling California Supreme Court Rules

Dec 7, 2015

An unprecedented decision by the California Supreme Court supports the rights of consumers to sue over the mislabeling of organic food. In a case against Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., the high court unanimously ruled that consumers can file a lawsuit against growers who purposely label non-organic foods as organic in order to profit from higher prices. Previously, the California Court of Appeals decided that the lawsuit was preempted by the federal Organic Food Production Act (OFPA).

The OFPA of 1990 established standards for foods marketed as "organic" in the United States. The act was also created "to facilitate interstate commerce in fresh and processed food that is organically produced."

The California Supreme Court rejected the lower court's ruling that the case was preempted. In fact, the high court ruled that lawsuits such as this help reinforce the purpose of OFPA, which was implemented so consumers could know that organic foods met a certain standard. "By all appearances," the Court wrote, "permitting state consumer fraud actions would advance, not impair, [OFPA’s] goals. Substitution fraud, intentionally marketing products as organic that have been grown conventionally, undermines the assurances the USDA Organic label is intended to provide. Conversely, the prosecution of such fraud, whether by public prosecutors where resources and state laws permit, or through civil suits by individuals or groups of consumers, can only serve to deter mislabeling and enhance consumer confidence."

Such lawsuits help protect the rights of consumers, who are allegedly paying extra for an organically-labeled product that was grown conventionally. Not only are these types of actions deceptive and costly to consumers, but they also undermine the integrity of the organic industry.

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