SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday that pharmaceutical giant Bayer will have to face claims its One A Day multivitamins are falsely labeled as “natural” because they contain a number of synthetic ingredients.
Lead plaintiff Edison Corpuz claims he bought a bottle of Bayer’s One a Day chewable multivitamins labeled “Natural Fruit Bites Multivitamin” in San Diego in 2019 under the assumption that the multivitamins were made with natural, non-synthetic ingredients. On closer inspection, he says he found the ingredients included synthetic ingredients like cholecalciferol, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride, D-biotin, and potassium iodide.
The putative class action, filed in the Southern District of California, defines synthetic as an ingredient “formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources.”
Corpuz also quotes a U.S. Department of Agriculture draft guidance issued in 2013 that defines natural as “manufactured, produced, or extracted from a natural source (i.e. naturally occurring mineral or biological matter); (b) it has not undergone a chemical change (i.e. a process whereby a substance is transformed into one or more other distinct substances) so that it is chemically or structurally different than how it naturally occurs in the source material; or (c) the chemical change was created by a naturally occurring biological process such as composting, fermentation, or enzymatic digestion or by heating or burning biological matter.”
Corpuz says he would not have bought the multivitamin if it wasn’t advertised as “natural.” His claims include violations of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which allows people to bring civil suits against companies that use deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition.
Corpuz seeks $5,000,000 in damages for the putative class.
Bayer moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. The company argued Corpuz’s definition of natural is extreme and implausible. "Reasonable consumers would not expect the bite-sized, chewy, obviously manufactured [OAD] product to have been created solely by nature, without the use of some chemical process,” the company said in its motion, adding that if a synthetics-free multivitamin was produced it would be “the size of a golf ball.”
U.S. District Judge Michael Anello refused to dismiss the case Tuesday.
“Numerous courts in the Ninth Circuit have found it plausible that a reasonable consumer would understand similar labeling involving 'natural' to mean that a product does not contain any non-natural ingredients,” Anello wrote in the ruling.
He also rejected Bayer's comparison to a recent Ninth Circuit ruling involving Trader Joe’s “100% New Zealand Manuka Honey” where the court found that reasonable consumers should know that it’s impossible to produce honey from a single source since bees that make honey are foraging insects and the price of the honey was relatively cheap, and there was a label on the product that should have lead people to investigate the honey’s purity. Bayer’s multivitamin is different because of those contextual clues that the product was not 100% natural, Anello found.
“Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiff alleges with sufficient plausibility that a reasonable consumer is likely to be deceived by the term 'natural,' and denies the motion to dismiss on these grounds,” Anello wrote.
A Bayer spokesperson said the company will continue to fight the lawsuit.
“The company respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision. Regardless, the ruling was simply on the pleadings, and the company strongly believes that the evidence in this case will show that it acted properly in marketing its One a Day ‘Natural Fruit Bites’ product. The company will vigorously defend itself against these claims,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
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