The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit alleging “soymilk” labels mislead consumers

Posted on December 10, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

According to Dairy Herd Management and Food Navigator-USA.Com, A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging “soymilk” labels mislead consumers.

The decision, issued Dec. 1, 2015 in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of California, dismissed claims that specialty grocer Trader Joe’s misled consumers by misbranding products without cow’s milk as “soymilk.” The class-action lawsuit, filed in early 2013, alleged Trader Joe’s use of the term “soymilk” violated the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, as well as California law, because it “purports to be” a food standardized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled those assertions were insufficient. In his five-page ruling, Judge Chhabria said consumers would not think soymilk contains dairy milk, or that it has the same nutritional value as milk. “It is simply implausible that a reasonable consumer would mistake a product like soymilk or almond milk with dairy milk from a cow,” Chhabria wrote.

The National Milk Producers Federation asked FDA to restrict soy beverage labeling in February, 2000, requesting the agency “take appropriate enforcement action to prevent misbranded products from entering the marketplace and to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers.”

In May 2014, NMPF said FDA had blatantly disregarded adequate enforcement of regulations by allowing soy, rice, nut and hemp products to define themselves as milk, in violation of long-standing food standards.

In his ruling, Judge Chhabria said FDA’s standardization of milk “does not categorically preclude a company from giving any food product a name that includes the word ‘milk.’ Rather, the standardization of milk simply means that a company cannot ‘pass off’ a product as ‘milk’ if it does not meet the regulatory definition of milk. Trader Joe’s has not, by calling its products ‘soymilk,’ attempted to pass off those products as the food that the FDA has standardized (that is, milk).”

According to Food Navigator-USA-Com, the judge’s comments echo those of fellow judge Samuel Conti in a similar case, who noted, “that under the plaintiffs’ logic, “consumers might also ‘assume that ‘flourless chocolate cake’ contains flour or ‘e-books’ are made out of paper.”


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