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Judge says ‘soymilk’ clearly not from cows

It's not plausible that consumers would be confused by products labeled as "soymilk" and "almond milk," according to a federal judge in California. The judge has dismissed a lawsuit that accused several food manufacturers of false advertising.

By Mateusz Perowski

Capital Press

Published on December 17, 2013 11:55AM

Last changed on December 17, 2013 3:25PM

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit that claimed products labeled as “soymilk” and “almond milk” are misbranded.

U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti has found that it’s “simply not plausible” that a reasonable consumer would be deceived into thinking the products contained dairy milk.

“The claim stretches the bounds of credulity,” Conti said in the ruling. “Under plaintiffs’ logic, a reasonable consumer might also believe that veggie bacon contains pork, that flourless chocolate cake contains flour, or that e-books are made out of paper.”

The ruling terminates a lawsuit filed in California that seeks class action status and accuses manufacturers WhiteWave Foods, Dean Foods, WWF Operating Co. and Horizon Organic Dairy of false advertising.

The judge said that because the words “soy” and “almond” precede “milk” in the product names, it’s obvious to “even the least discerning of consumers” that they’re not produced by dairy cows.

Conti compared the lawsuit to a similar case, in which the plaintiffs alleged that “Cap’n Crunch’s Crunch Berry” cereal derived nutrition from actual fruit.

In that case, the court found the claim to be “nonsense” as the product on the label was called a “crunch berry” and clearly didn’t resemble real fruit.

Conti did acknowledge that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has sent warning letters to “soymilk” manufacturers, notifying them that the products are mislabeled.

Even so, these “brief statements” are “far from controlling” because the FDA has used the term “soymilk” itself in other public communications, the judge said.

Since the FDA hasn’t adopted a uniform interpretation for what such products should be called, Conti said he agreed with the manufacturers that the terms “soymilk” and “almond milk” are accurate descriptions.

The judge said these names “clearly convey the basic content and nature of these beverages, while clearly distinguishing them from milk that is derived from dairy cows.”

Conti also dismissed allegations that the manufacturers deceived consumers by calling sugar “evaporated cane juice” on the product label’s list of ingredients.

Similar allegations were made in a class action lawsuit in Florida that has since been settled, he said.

Plaintiffs in the California litigation didn’t object to the settlement despite having sufficient notice of it, and their interests are adequately represented in the deal, Conti said.


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