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Non-Organic Baby Formula Case Preempted

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Sara Marentette checked the label twice: "Similac Advance Organic Infant Formula."

Like many parents, she wanted to make sure the baby formula was organic. So she bought some and took it home.

But when she double-checked, she discovered a bunch of ingredients that prompted her to file a class-action lawsuit. In Marentette v. Abbott Laboratories, the plaintiffs said the defendant sold them non-organic baby formula.

Organic Food Production Act

The suit was over before it began. The plaintiffs said the ingredients were synthetic under the Organic Foods Production Act, but a federal judge said the same federal law preempted their complaint.

The plaintiffs cited the OFPA to identify non-organic substances. However, they sued under under state laws to enforce certain remedies.

"Parents' argument boils down to: their claims are not preempted because they are meritorious, and therefore vindicate federal law, rather than undermining it," the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. "But, even if Parents' claims were meritorious, that is not how preemption analysis works.

The appeals court analyzed the case through the lens of "conflict preemption." The judges said conflict preemption applies where state law "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress."

Conflict Preemption

At oral argument, the plaintiffs' attorney argued that one state-law remedy would require the Similac formula label to disclose the product contains non-organic ingredients. Exactly, the Second Circuit said.

"Such a remedy would clearly undermine the certification and labeling scheme Congress enacted in the OFPA," the appeals panel said.

To be labeled organic, the Act says a product generally must have been produced or handled without synthetical chemicals. However, the appeals court explained, it also authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to create a list of synthetic substances that are permitted in organic products.

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