Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali

Start watching
SoCal Update

SoCal Update

Start watching
a large damn with graffiti of a woman with a hammer on it, mountains in the background

Earth Focus Presents

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
Professor T

Professor T (Belgium)

Start watching
Artbound

Artbound

Start watching
Emma

Emma

Start watching
Guilt

Guilt

Start watching
Line of Separation Key Art.

Line of Separation

Start watching
Us

Us

Start watching
The Latino Experience

The Latino Experience

Start watching
Key Art of "Summer of Rockets" featuring Keeley Hawes and Toby Stephens.

Summer of Rockets

Start watching
Death in Paradise Series 10

Death in Paradise

Start watching
millionaire still

KCET Must See Movies

Start watching
Independent Lens

Independent Lens

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Earth Focus

Earth Focus

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Will California's 'Organic' Lawsuit Ruling Change Food Labeling?

Support Provided By

Since a ruling by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal in 2013, a consumer's lawsuit against a corporation for falsely labeling products as "organic" went something like this: "Sorry, can't."

That's because the ruling made it impossible for those lawsuits to even be heard. According to the court, it was not the state's job to police the "organic" label. Rather, it was the duty of the federal government. They're the ones who should be putting together a national standard after all, not the states.

But, that's all about to change. In December, the California Supreme Court overturned that decision.

While ruling on a case between a consumer and Herb Thyme Farms Inc. -- the former claiming the defendant mixed organic and non-organic herbs and labeled them all "100% organic" -- the court first had to decide whether or not they had jurisdiction to rule on the case. After mulling it over, the court figured any ruling would actually help the process of putting together a national standard:

"Accordingly, state lawsuits alleging intentional organic mislabeling promote, rather than hinder, Congress's purposes and objectives," Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote for the unanimous court.

So, while the specific suit has yet to be concluded, the biggest takeaway from the battle is that consumers can now file lawsuits against corporations for their improper "organic" claims. Will this help bring about much-needed change to how the label is regulated? Or will it simply mire the courts in an avalanche of lawsuits?

"I don't predict a surge of lawsuits," wrote Alexis Baden-Mayer, the Political Director for the Organic Consumers Association, in an email. "There are very few areas where the organic rules aren't being followed."

In other words, the Herb Thyme Farms suit is an outlier in terms of an organization trying to get around the regulations. Not to say there aren't others out there -- and now, they are more likely to be taken to court -- but this decision isn't going to suddenly overwhelm the system with consumers claiming their organic food isn't really organic.

That doesn't mean the whole landscape will remain untouched. Rather, Baden-Mayer expects more lawsuits involving areas where the "organic" label doesn't have strict regulations yet.

"We may see more lawsuits involving personal care products falsely labeled as 'organic,' an area that USDA doesn't police," Baden-Mayer wrote. "Or 'organic' infant formulas that have several synthetic ingredients in them."

The suits, then, could be a way towards figuring out what the organic label means across the entire spectrum of products, not just food. This may be ultimately the biggest effect this California Supreme Court decision has on the label.

"The USDA defines organic, and they enforce that definition for food," Baden-Mayer wrote. "So when consumers see other products, like body-care, labeled organic, they expect those products to meet the same standard. Now that there's a threat of enforcement, we'll see fewer body-care products labeled organic, but the ones that are, we'll know meet the same organic standard as food and that's a very high standard."

As for how this affects the "natural" label on foods -- which, remember, means absolutely nothing -- remains to be seen.

"The FDA has opened a public comment period up on the definition of 'natural,' so if a stricter definition were to be adopted, it could probably be enforced through the courts in a similar fashion," Baden-Mayer wrote. "Still, we're not going to see detailed regulations for 'natural' like we have for 'organic.'"

Perhaps the biggest thing to watch out for is if other states follow California's lead on the issue.

"I do think that California's decision, while not binding on other states, is a good precedent for other states to follow, and will likely act as a deterrent to organic fraud," Baden-Mayer wrote.

After all, there's a reason for the saying "As California goes, so goes the rest of the country."

Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!

Support Provided By
Read More
A large cliff has a distinct rock formation that look like pillars, which create little crevices for people to go into and explore.

9 Epic Volcanic Attractions and Hot Springs to Visit in California

If you enjoy living on the edge, and one of your greatest wishes is to see a volcanic event in action before your very eyes, you don't have to travel as far as Hawaii or Indonesia. California has an entire volcanic field that's ripe for exploring, east of the Sierra Nevada. Here are nine spots to explore.
Photographic portrait of Mrs. Arcadia de Baker; previously Mrs. Abel Stearns, Arcadia Bandini, ca.1885. She can be seen from the waist up turned slightly to the left in an oval cutout. Her long dark hair is parted up the middle and pulled back to her neck. She is wearing a frilly shawl over a frilly dress with a low neckline.

The Powerful Mexican Woman Who Helped Shape Early Santa Monica

Arcadia Bandini Stearns de Baker was rich, beautiful and connected. This savvy businesswoman would be an important player in early California and helped shape Santa Monica and the west side of Los Angeles.
TunaClub.JPG

Seven Best Places to Visit in and Around Avalon on Catalina Island

Just 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, Catalina continues to draw visitors with its miles of uninterrupted shoreline, abundant marine life, water sports and dazzling nightlife — much of which can still be enjoyed today in much the same way it was a century ago (with some high-tech improvements).