SAN DIEGO (CN) - Coca-Cola misrepresents Coke as free from artificial flavors and chemical preservatives, yet it contains phosphoric acid, which is both, a California man claims in a class action.
Paul Merritt sued BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles and Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Sonora, Calif., in Superior Court.
He claims Coca-Cola deceives consumers by failing to list phosphoric acid as an artificial flavor and preservative on the labels of sodas marketed and sold in California.
"Indeed, many of the cartons and containers of defendants' Coca-Cola brand sodas affirmatively and falsely state that they contain no artificial flavoring or chemical preservatives," the complaint states.
Merritt says the mislabeling violates state and federal laws.
"Defendants are well aware of the health concerns of consumers and knowingly and intentionally engage in such unlawful conduct to deceive consumers and increase profits," he adds.
Federal and state regulations require manufacturers to list all the ingredients, including artificial flavoring, in foods and beverages, but Coca-Cola does not list phosphoric acid, "an artificial, man-made chemical, that defendants use both for flavoring and as a preservative," Merritt claims.
Coca-Cola states on its website that it adds phosphoric acid to sodas to improve their flavor and "tartness" and protect them from spoiling, Merritt says in his lawsuit.
"Phosphoric acid contains phosphorous, one of the basic elements of nature and an essential nutrient. Phosphorous is a major component of bones," the complaint states, citing Coca-Cola's website.
Merritt claims that phosphorous and phosphoric acid "are two different things." He claims that although phosphorous is a natural element, phosphoric acid is not derived from natural ingredients, such as spices, fruits, barks or herbs, nor is it an essential oil, essence or extract of these ingredients.
"Defendants knowingly and intentionally falsely stated that Coca-Cola soda has 'no artificial flavors. No preservatives added,' despite the fact that Coca-Cola soda contains artificial flavoring and chemical preservatives," the complaint states.
Food scientists would disagree. One food scientist, a chemist with a Ph.D. from UC-Davis, pointed out that all natural foods are composed of chemicals. Grapes taste like grapes, the scientist said, because they contain the chemical methyl anthranylate. Yet the existence of methyl anthranylate in grapes does not mean that grapes are artificially flavored.
Merritt claims in his lawsuit: "A significant function of phosphoric acid in Coca-Cola soda is flavoring rather than nutritional," and says he would not have bought Coke if he knew it contained phosphoric acid.
He claims Coca-Cola's labels are deceptive, and "designed to increase sales of their Coca-Cola soda" at the expense of consumers' health.
Merritt seeks restitution, disgorgement and punitive damages for unlawful business practices and false advertising. He also Coca-Cola enjoined from selling, marketing and advertising its soda until it "engage[s] in corrective action."
He is represented by Jeffrey R. Krinsk with Finkelstein & Krinsk.
Coca-Cola did not return emails seeking comment Friday.