(NaturalNews) The "all natural" label on food products is sort of like a gated community; it provides a false sense of security.
USDA Certified Organic is the only seal completely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The "all natural" term is only regulated on meat and poultry products. Aside from that, any company can use this label without it really meaning anything, as it has no standard definition.
Processed foods labeled with "all natural" can consist of GMOs, pesticides, artificial colors and chemical additives and preservatives.
Heinz White Vinegar is the latest product to be sued for falsely advertising their product as "all natural."
On March 17, Debbie Banafsheha filed a complaint against Heinz, accusing the company of false marketing and advertisement. Banafsheha alleges that Heinz Distilled White Vinegar is not "all natural," like the label implies, but is made from genetically modified (GM) corn.
According to Rodale News, "Vinegar is made by fermenting any product with sugar or with starches that can be converted to sugar, and Heinz uses corn as their starting material."
"Defendant's 'all natural' representations are false, deceptive, misleading, and unfair to consumers, who are injured in fact by purchasing products that Defendant claims are 'all natural' when in fact they are not," said Banafsheha.
Although Heinz doesn't explicitly confirm that the corn used in the vinegar is made from genetically modified ingredients, Banafsheha affirms that it likely is, given that nearly all corn in the U.S. is GMO.
Lawsuits against companies using the label "all natural" but still including GMO ingredients are becoming more and more common, yet the courts haven't been consistent on their rulings.
Judges asked the FDA to decide whether or not GMOs belong in products labeled "all natural," but their request was denied, leaving many court cases on hold.
Greenberg Traurig attorney Justin Prochnow said he's experienced "very erratic decisions from the courts" regarding this issue. "I tell my clients that unless you've literally pulled it out of the ground yourself and stuck it in a box, don't call it all-natural," said Prochnow.
Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed on this issue since 2011 against companies including the Kellogg Co., Campbell Soup, Trader Joe's, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Nature Valley.
Frito-Lay was also sued for using "all natural" labels despite the product containing artificial or unnatural ingredients, flavoring, coloring or preservatives. Plaintiffs in this case alleged that Lay's Classic Potato Chips contained more than 13 grams of fat per 50 grams of food product, despite the label advertising "0 Grams Trans Fat." The product also advertised having "No MSG," another claim that plaintiffs say is a lie.
Further arguments by the plaintiff include disputing the product being marketed as "low sodium," when in reality the chips contain more than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving size and per 50 grams of food product.
"Frito-Lay argued that the full phrase was 'Made with ALL NATURAL Ingredients,' and that no reasonable consumer could be misled into thinking that all the ingredients were natural, especially given the nutrition box," reported Rebecca Tushnet's Blog. Frito-Lay expected curious customers to continue reading the nutrition box on the back in order to learn that not all the ingredients were "all natural."
The Ninth Circuit rejected this argument, since "reasonable consumers aren't expected to look beyond misleading representations on the front of the box to discover the small-print truth elsewhere," Tushnet wrote.
She added, "The 'ALL NATURAL' label was ambiguous, because it could suggest either that the product was all natural or that some of its ingredients were. A reasonable consumer could interpret 'all natural' to mean 'all natural.'"
Debbie Banafsheha v. H.J. Heinz Company, 2:14-cv-02023, filed in the Central District of California, is still pending.