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Organic Labeling Lawsuits OK in California

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 07, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"Labels matter." That's what the California Supreme Court said when reinstituting a class action lawsuit regarding the accuracy of organic labels on food products. The court also said: "Misrepresentations in labeling undermine this signifying function, preventing consumers from correctly identifying the goods and services that carry the attributes they desire while also hampering honest producers' attempts to differentiate their merchandise from the competition."

The ruling allows consumers to bring unfair competition lawsuits in state court if manufacturers or sellers misuse the "organic" designation on food or produce. You can read the full decision below.

100 Percent Wrong?

Michelle Quesada sued Herb Thyme Farms Inc., claiming that the company mixed organic and non-organic herbs and labeled the product "100 % organic." According to the California Department of Public Health, the term "organic" means the food was produced using sustainable practices and without synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetic engineering, and products labeled "100% organic" must consist of only organic ingredients.

Two lower courts had thrown out Quesada's lawsuit, on the grounds that organic labeling was the purview of state and federal officials, and consumer lawsuits were barred in state court. Herb Thyme Farms argued that "If a lone consumer can second-guess the USDA's certification, and a grower cannot rely on its federal authorization to use the term, the already high cost of production of such products will skyrocket, or more likely, there will be no organic products to enjoy."

Sustenance Claims in State Court

The California Supreme Court disagreed, however, stating that such lawsuits would further congressional goals regarding label accuracy. As Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote, "state lawsuits alleging intentional organic mislabeling promote, rather than hinder, Congress's purposes and objectives" of curtailing fraud and ensuring consumers can rely on organic labels.

Now that her lawsuit has been reinstated, it will be interesting to see how many other consumers join the class action, and to see if her claim will succeed on the merits. You can read the entire California Supreme Court ruling below:

Michelle Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc.: Ruling by FindLaw

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