State Law Food Labeling Claims Preempted by Federal Law

On November 3, 2010, a California Federal District Court ruled that federal law preempts state law claims for false and misleading labeling of snack food products. Peviani v. Hostess Brands, Inc., No. 2:10-cv-10- 2303 CBM (VBKx), at *1 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 3, 2010).

On May 26, 2010, in a putative class action, the plaintiffs ("consumers") filed a First Amended Complaint against Hostess, Interstate Brands Corporation, and IBC Sales Corporation (collectively referred to herein as "manufacturers"), alleging (1) false advertising in violation of the Lanham Act; (2) violations of the California Unfair Competition Law; (3) violations of the California False Advertising Law; (4) violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act; and (5) violations of the Missouri Merchandise Practices Act.

The consumers alleged that the manufacturers use "misleading, deceptive, and fraudulent misstatements and omissions to market six (6) varieties of baked-goods products under the label 'Hostess 100 Calorie Packs.'" Id. at 2. In particular, they challenged the manufacturers' labeling of the Hostess 100 Calorie Packs as containing "0 Grams of Trans Fat." The consumers argued that the products contain partially hydrogenated oils (PVHO), which are produced by manufacturing artificial trans fat through a process of partial hydrogenation and are linked to various health problems. The consumers contended that, while the "0 Grams of Trans Fat" statement within the Nutrition Facts panel was not subject to a false and misleading standard, the same statement outside the Nutrition Facts panel was.

On June 23, 2010, the manufacturers filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that consumers' state law claims were preempted by federal law. The motion was granted on November 3, 2010. In dismissing the action, the court first examined the federal scheme for the regulation of food. Specifically, the court reviewed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which clarified and strengthened the FDA's ability to require and regulate nutrition labeling on food. 21 U.S.C. § 341.

The court looked at two specific sections of the NLEA, 21 U.S.C. §§ 343(q) and (r), and the accompanying regulations. The first section provides nutrition information labeling requirements, which entail including the amount of saturated fat and total fat in each serving. The accompanying regulations also require that the trans fat content in each serving be expressed on nutrition information labels. Notably...

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