California District Court Rules Against FDA Preemption of “Natural” ClaimFebruary 10, 2009
By Ricardo Carvajal –
Disagreeing with an earlier New Jersey district court decision, a California district court has 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.” According to the decision, the claim is not expressly preempted by FDC Act section 403A, nor is the claim impliedly preempted under the doctrines of field or conflict preemption. On the question of implied preemption, the California court rejects as unpersuasive the reasoning relied on by a New Jersey district court to reach the opposite conclusion (Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 574 F.Supp.2d 447 (D.N.J. 2008)). This latest decision is likely to add to the existing confusion over the precise contours and reach of the doctrine of implied preemption in food liability cases. Notably, FDA has indicated that products that contain HFCS can be labeled as "natural," depending on how the HFCS is made.