The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may not have a formal definition of what "natural" means, but that hasn't stopped approximately 20 lawsuits from taking Tropicana Products to task for use of the term. The company is being sued for false advertising for making claims that its orange juice is "natural" when critics say it's anything but.
The main sticking point is the juice's ingredients: Tropicana juice contains "flavor packs" that help the juice taste the same year-round, reports the Associated Press.
Snapple felt the wrath of a similar lawsuit in 2007, and has stopped using high-fructose corn syrup in products labeled "all natural." Though high-fructose corn syrup comes from corn, it is highly processed.
That's the response Stephen A. Weiss, one of the lawyers involved in the Tropicana suits, is looking for from Tropicana. "I'd like them to modify their marketing so that consumers can make an informed judgment on their purchases," he said.
Thus far, Tropicana's remained mum, save a statement to the public that the company is committed to compliance with labeling laws and producing "great-tasting 100 percent orange juice."
As for the FDA's stance on the matter, "natural" food is vaguely defined, which is partly why the issue has come up again and again. Tostidos, SunChips, and Ben & Jerry's have also faced scrutiny over false claims. The FDA has no problem with the use of the term "natural" if a food labeled as such doesn't contain added color, artificial flavor, or synthetic substances. Companies who use high fructose corn syrup, for example,
Michel Jacobson, executive director at Center for Science in the Public Interest, a watchdog group that has waged war on 7 Up and Capri Sun for false labeling, says the definition is too vague. He and others attribute the problem to the lack of leadership from the FDA.
As for the lawsuits, they could go to trial, or Tropicana could agree to settle out of court, offering vouchers or rebates to consumers who purchased their products. That's what ice cream company Ben & Jerry's did earlier this year, to the tune of $7.5 million dollars. The company offered $20 cash rebates and agreed to alter its packaging to be more transparent.
What do you think? Are companies doing enough to help consumers make informed decisions? Sound off in the comments below.
*Correction: In the original publication of this article, Megan Bedard incorrectly stated that the lawsuit pertains to high-fructose corn syrup in Tropicana juices, as well as "flavor packets." The article has been updated to reflect that, though other companies have been sued for use of high-fructose corn syrup, the Tropicana suits are only regarding flavor packets.
A sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, Megan likes writing about food almost as much as eating it. If you don't want to know what's in your fruit/milk/meat, don't invite her to lunch. @babybokchoy