Appellate court dismisses fiber food labeling suit
Oct. 25, 2011
CHICAGO — Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago dismissed a lawsuit filed by consumer Carolyn Turek regarding food labeling on fiber bars produced by General Mills, Inc. and Kellogg Co.
In her suit, Ms. Turek claimed the companies did not disclose that the bars contained a form of processed fiber that is inferior to natural fiber. Additionally, she alleged the labels did not disclose that the bars may cause certain health problems, an allegation both companies denied.
In his opinion, Judge Posner wrote that current legislation does not require companies to disclose that processed fiber offers fewer health benefits than natural fiber. And while states may ask for certain exemptions under the federal law, Illinois never obtained one to impose stricter standards.
“It is easy to see why Congress would not want to allow states to impose disclosure requirements of their own on packaged food products, most of which are sold nationwide,” Mr. Posner wrote. “Manufacturers might have to print 50 different labels, driving consumers who buy food products in more than one state crazy.”
Mr. Posner said the labeling of Fiber Plus bars, Fiber One bars and other products challenged in the lawsuit is compliant with current regulations relating to health claims for dietary fibers.
“The disclaimers that the plaintiff wants added to the labeling of the defendants’ inulin-containing chewy bars are not identical to the labeling requirements imposed on such products by federal law, and so they are barred,” Mr. Posner wrote. “The information required by federal law does not include disclosing that the fiber in the product includes inulin or that a product containing inulin produces fewer health benefits than a product that contains only ‘natural’ fiber, or that inulin from chicory root should not be consumed by pregnant or lactating women.
“The only mention of inulin that we have found in a federal regulation appears in a regulation issued by the Department of Agriculture that lists inulin as one of the ‘nonorganically produced agricultural products (that) may be used as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as organic.’”
Mr. Posner concluded his remarks by noting that not all of the issues presented by Ms. Turek were addressed in the opinion because some were “frivolous, insufficiently explained in her briefs to be intelligible, or forfeited because they were not presented in the district court.”
Responding to the decision, General Mills said, “We are pleased that the Appellate Court agreed with the District Court ruling, dismissing this matter with prejudice.”