On July 11, 2013, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California referred to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to determine if foods containing genetically modified ingredients may be labeled “natural.” The referral came after Elizabeth Cox brought suit against Gruma Corp., a tortilla producer, alleging that the Gruma’s “All Natural” labels are false and misleading because their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the form of corn grown from genetically modified seeds.
After detailing the FDA’s authority over the labeling of food products, the court noted that the FDA issued non-binding guidance defining the term “natural” on food labels to mean “nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in the food.” The court also noted, however, that both parties agree that the FDA has not addressed, even informally, whether GMO ingredients may be labeled natural. Based on this “gap in the current regulatory landscape”, the court gave deference to the FDA’s regulatory authority to avoid “usurping the FDA’s interpretive authority and undermining, through private litigation, the FDA’s considered judgments.”
The court also stayed the action for a period of six months, with an option to extend the period if the FDA indicates that it intends to resolve the issue, and ordered the parties to cooperate in expediting the explanation of the question presented by the action to the FDA, and to notify the court of any determination by the FDA.
This case is docketed at 12-cv-06502. It can be accessed through Lexology’s website here.
Written by Sarah Doyle - Research Assistant
The Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
July 18, 2013