Third Circuit: State Law Claims Challenging Labeling of High Fructose Corn Syrup as “Natural” Are Not Preempted

August 17, 2009

By Ricardo Carvajal

Last year, a New Jersey district court held in favor of federal preemption of a state law consumer fraud claim against the manufacturer of a beverage that contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and is labeled as “all natural” (see Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 574 F.Supp.2d 447 (D.N.J. 2008)).  Last week, the Third Circuit reversed.  According to the appellate court, neither FDA’s policy statement on the use of “natural” nor correspondence issued by FDA that addresses the use of “natural” in the labeling of foods that contain HFCS “have the force of law required to preempt conflicting state law.”  The appellate court held that plaintiff’s claims are thus not impliedly preempted (defendant waived the question of whether the claims are expressly preempted).

Earlier this year, a California district court similarly ruled that there is no federal preemption of an unfair competition claim against the manufacturer of a food that contains high fructose corn syrup ("HFCS") and is labeled as “all natural” (see our prior post here).  That court rejected as unpersuasive the reasoning relied on by the New Jersey district court in Holk to hold in favor of preemption.  Evidently, the Third Circuit also was not persuaded.   Although it’s too early to declare the issue settled, the climb for those who would argue in favor of preemption in cases such as these appears to be getting steeper.

Categories: Foods