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Food labels play “To Tell The Truth”

POM Wonderful has challenged Minute Maid product labeling.
POM Wonderful has challenged Minute Maid product labeling.
POM Wonderful

Similar to the guessing game played by the panel of celebrities on the old television show To Tell The Truth, consumers often have a difficult time understanding, evaluating and wondering about the honesty of food labels when they walk up and down supermarket aisles. But, some consumer concerns soon may be eased due to the recent 8-0 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.

About a month ago, the court decided that Coca-Cola can be sued by POM Wonderful over misleading product labeling. Pom Wonderful’s suit claimed that Coca-Cola labeled a Minute Maid juice product as “Pomegranate-Blueberry” when the beverage contained 0.3 percent pomegranate juice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group of four attorneys and two consumer activists with specialties in false advertising litigation, applauded the decision. The organization indicated that changes to food labels will not occur immediately but the litigation will help consumers in the future.

The court ruling could lead to greater clarity about food and beverage labeling that exceeds the guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The high court decision also may have signaled that false and misleading labels now will receive closer scrutiny.

Corporate, Consumer Lawsuits

Product competitors now are aware, according to industry analysts, that legal action can be initiated over food and beverage labels. The potential fallout could provide additional consumer protection. The industry has been warned with this decision that FDA approval no longer is the last word about the contents that appear on a product label. Not only can companies sue each other over product labeling to protect respective brand awareness and market share, but the court action supports consumer lawsuits against companies to prevent deception.

With a greater potential for court action, food and beverage companies now may seek additional legal advice about labeling content, leading to a more conservative approach to the listing of ingredients.

One attorney who specializes in false advertising litigation indicated that the specific ruling of POM Wonderful versus Coca-Cola may put companies at odds sometimes as the plaintiffs and sometimes as the defendants. This ruling, he said, went against Coca-Cola but that Coca-Cola could use this case if it decided to challenge Pepsi’s labeling practices.