LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday denied a bid by food and beverage giant Nestle to toss a consumer class action claiming the company violated federal and state laws by applying its unverified “No GMO” label to products.
California resident Jennifer Latiff claims in her 2018 lawsuit that Nestle USA’s “No GMO Ingredients” label deceived her and other consumers into purchasing products falsely described as being free of genetically modified organisms.
Latiff claims she bases her purchasing decisions on whether products have been verified by third-party groups – such as the Non-GMO Project – as being free of genetically modified ingredients or parts of animals that were fed GMO food.
Nestle’s Lean Cuisine Marketplace frozen meal and Coffee-Mate Natural Bliss creamer were among the products Latiff says she purchased in supermarkets.
By creating its own seal, Nestle violated the Federal Trade Commission’s food certification guidelines and California’s unfair competition laws, Latiff says in her complaint.
Nestle moved to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming Latiff lacked standing to bring the suit and could not demonstrate “real and immediate threat” of injury.
But U.S District Judge Otis D. Wright II disagreed, writing in an 9-page order Thursday that Latiff had standing to submit the claims and that she suffered harm by relying on Nestle’s label when making her purchases.
“Since plaintiff alleges that she relied on defendant’s label, thereby paying higher market prices than she would have otherwise paid, plaintiff has standing,” Wright wrote.
Wright also ruled that because any “reasonable consumer” could be deceived by the labels, Nestle must also face claims it violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
In a statement, Nestle said its “No GMO Ingredients” claim is backed up by SGS, “a world leader in third-party inspection, verification, testing and certification.”
“While we are disappointed with this ruling, it is purely procedural in nature and is in no way determinative of the merits of the plaintiff’s allegations, which remain unproven,” Nestle said. “Our product labels declaring the absence of GMO ingredients are accurate, comply with FDA and USDA regulations, and provide consumers with information to help them make informed purchasing decisions.”
Latiff’s attorney Daniel Warshaw of Pearson, Simon & Warshaw did not respond to a request for comment on the ruling.