All-Natural Litigation

Last month, Kraft Foods faced a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest for printing the all natural claim on packages of Capri-Sun juice beverages. Several months before that, the consumer advocacy group threatened to sue Cadbury Schweppes, the manufacturer of 7UP and its newly formulated 100% Natural blend. At issue is the fact that both beverages contain high-fructose corn syrup,

Last month, Kraft Foods faced a lawsuit from the Center for Science in the Public Interest for printing the “all natural” claim on packages of Capri-Sun juice beverages. Several months before that, the consumer advocacy group threatened to sue Cadbury Schweppes, the manufacturer of 7UP and its newly formulated “100% Natural” blend.

At issue is the fact that both beverages contain high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener made by breaking down and reordering glucose molecules — something critics claim is anything but natural. Both companies have since rescinded their respective claims.

“If it contains high-fructose corn syrup, don't call it natural,” said Michael Jacobson, CSPI's executive director. “It's a very simple thing to agree to.”

Actually, it's not so simple. Natural foods are part of a $25 billion-a-year market, and growing. Manufacturers have a huge stake in catering to this trend in the most efficient ways possible.

The FDA defines “natural” as “nothing artificial or synthetic,” and the USDA draws a similar line, adding that natural products must be minimally processed — attractively vague language to some manufacturers.

But the irony is hard to ignore: Just as these manufacturers market to a trend that prizes food knowledge and sophistication, so it seems this same increased awareness has finally led consumers and organizations like CSPI to identify overblown claims.

“Groups used to rarely file lawsuits on these kinds of issues,” said Jacobson. “But we are certainly getting a lot more active with litigation.”