- On October 22, a California federal judge found that a proposed consumer class failed to show that calling a product “milk-based” is deceptive when milk is one, but not the main, ingredient in the product (subscription to Law360 required).
- U.S. District Judge John Holcomb in his order said that the proposed class representative, Cecilia Martinez, had a limited interpretation of the product’s labeling and that Mead Johnson provided sufficient context, specifically in its ingredient list, to clarify the “milk-based” description. “Martinez [alleges] no factual support for why a reasonable consumer would narrowly interpret a something-based label to mean that that something must contribute the most to the product’s weight, relative to any other ingredient,” reasoned Judge Holcomb on Saturday.
- The disposition comes after Martinez filed the class action suit in February after she purchased Enfamil powdered formula in September 2021, believing the main ingredient to be milk on the “milk-based” description, only to later discover that the primary ingredient was corn syrup solids. Mead Johnson argued that an object could be described by one of its ingredients, even if it is not the main ingredient. To illustrate this point, the company pointed out that while a can of chicken-based broth and a can of vegetable-based broth both have water as the main ingredient, the products would likely be described by their more distinctive characteristics of chicken and vegetables.
- Judge Holcomb ultimately sided with the nutrition company and pointed out that FDA says only that product labels should “describe the basic nature of the food or its characterizing properties or ingredients,” and does not mention anything about conflating the characterizing ingredient of a product with its primary ingredient.
- According to Judge Holcomb, customers could “easily” turn the Enfamil formula bottle around and look at the ingredient label to see that while milk is listed, corn syrup solids are listed higher. Therefore, the judge said, Martinez’s arguments appear to be “plausible misunderstandings.”
- The proposed consumer class may file an amended complaint no later than November 10, 2022. The case is Cecilia Martinez v. Mead Johnson and Co. LLC, case number 5:22-cv-00213, located in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.