SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods conceals the presence of an allegedly carcinogenic weed killer in its steel cut oats and rolled oats, and instead capitalizes on consumer demand for "wholesome" food by falsely advertising the products as healthy, two people claim in a federal class action filed in San Francisco on Friday.
Citing a recent report by the Environmental Working Group finding traces of controversial herbicide glyphosate in Cheerios, Quaker Oats and other oat-based breakfast foods, plaintiffs Tamara Frankel and Natasha Paracha said Friday that Bob's Red Mill knew its oat products contain or likely contain the chemical, but didn't disclose it on the label.
Instead, they say, the Oregon-based company labeled the products with phrases such as "gluten free," "wheat free" and "purity tested," leading consumers to believe them to be healthy.
"Consumers have a reasonable expectation that material product information, such as the presence of a probable carcinogen like glyphosate, will be provided by a product manufacturer, especially when the manufacturer affirmatively identifies the health-related attributes of its products such as “Gluten Free”, “Whole Grain”, and “Friend of the Heart," the complaint states, adding that the labeling amounts to "misleading half-truths."
Although U.S. and European regulators have concluded glyphosate is safe, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it in 2015 as a probable human carcinogen.
The finding triggered thousands of lawsuits in the United States against Bayer subsidiary Monsanto, maker of Roundup , a widely used glyphosate-based herbicide. Earlier this month, a San Francisco jury awarded a school groundskeeper dying of cancer $289 million in damages, finding that exposure to Roundup caused his cancer.
Days after the landmark verdict, the Environmental Working Group, an environmental research and advocacy group, released a report finding that out of 45 oat-based food samples tested, 31 contained glyphosate at levels exceeding its safety benchmark of 160 parts per billion.
EWG's benchmark is stricter than the one used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of 2 mg/kg/day of glyphosate, and California's of 1.1 mg per day.
"To reach this maximum dose," EWG's report reads, "one would only have to eat a single 60-gram serving of food with a glyphosate level of 160 parts per billion, or ppb. The majority of samples of conventional oat products from EWG's study exceeded 160 ppb, meaning that a single serving of those products would exceed EWG's health benchmark."
Frankel and Paracha say Bob's Red Mill had a duty to disclose the presence of glyphosate in its oats and that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen, because consumers don't have easy access to the information. They want a court order blocking the company from continuing to advertise the products as healthy.
They seek to certify classes of consumers in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Washington. In the alternative, they seek to certify a California-only class.
Patricia Syverson with Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint in San Diego represents Frankel and Paracha.
Neither Syverson nor a spokeswoman for Bob's Red Mill could be reached for comment after business hours Friday.
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