- Kellogg and Post cereals are under scrutiny in the California federal courts for claims that they falsely advertise their cereals as healthy despite the alleged "toxic" sugar content levels in the products, according to reports on the cases.
- Post is defending itself with a First Amendment argument saying that the claims that are up for debate are indisputably true and that the government has no jurisdiction to ban truthful speech. Kellogg meanwhile is challenging a sanctions order by a California judge that certifies three classes of consumers in the lawsuit arguing against the summary judgment itself saying that plaintiff counsel failed to explain the grounds for filing a motion for civil contempt and is therefore not responsible for paying the legal fees of the other party.
- Both cases were filed by lead plaintiff Stephen Hadley in 2016.
Sugar content continues to be put under the microscope — and in this round, by the courts. Last year, the American Medical Association asked the FDA to adopt front-of-package warning labels for items containing high levels of added sugars. However, the Sugar Association said such warning labels would only mislead consumers because they aren't grounded in science.
A Kerry survey found that labels with "low/no/reduced' sugar claims" increased 45% last year compared to five years ago. With this lawsuit, Kellogg finds itself under fire for using that exact claim. The case centers on "lightly sweetened" advertising on Frosted Mini-Wheats and Smart Start cereals. Kellogg challenges the case by saying that it was civil contempt to not explain the basis of the filing to the company's legal counsel, but doesn't directly address the claims that are being contested in court.
The Post case is different as the cereal maker is in hot water for its prominent labeling of whole grain and vitamin content on its packaging, but without the context of its sugar content. The company argues that filing a case for deceptive health claims is difficult to prove as everyone has their own personal views on what healthy means and that the claims themselves on the box are truthful. If the courts accept that the cereal maker's labels are inherently truthful then it could be difficult for the plaintiffs to prove that the cereals are "unhealthy." Currently there is no legal definition of the word and labeling does not have a threshold at which nutrient benefits can be disqualified due to the presence of other unhealthy ingredients.
However, that lack of context between vitamins and minerals has recently come into question. As it stands, unhealthy food with high levels of sugar or sodium can still advertise healthy levels of vitamins on its product packaging, but according to a paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, health claims should be better qualified on labels taking all ingredients into consideration.
Since both companies are in court for similar questions about sugar levels and their role in "healthy" claims, the verdict of this case could send ripple effects. If they win, it will be a clear sign that the FDA is going to have to step in if there is going to be any formal consensus on what appropriate sugar levels are in products. If they lose, it will be a winning blow for consumer health and label transparency advocates and force companies to rethink their labeling practices.
As more lawsuits crop up regarding labeling practices — there have reportedly been about 300 lawsuits over the use of the word "natural" on food products in the last three years, according to an analysis cited by CBS News — it is clear that consumers want transparency. But for things to really change, it is likely going to take the FDA stepping in and defining some of the more commonly used terms and readjusting labeling conventions in order for companies to consistently reevaluate their label claims.