Baylen Linnekin: Hellman's Sues to Protect Its Mayo-Monopoly


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Must mayonnaise contain eggs, as FDA regulations require? Is "mayo" "mayonnaise"?

Concerned sandwich makers everywhere can take comfort in the fact that these important questions will be answered in a lawsuit filed late last month by Unilever, maker of Hellman's, against Hampton Creek, maker of Just Mayo. The former contains eggs, while the latter—which contains pea protein—does not, according to Baylen Linnekin.

At issue are the FDA's general standards of identity for various foods and, specifically, the agency's standard of identity for mayonnaise, which requires that any product labeled as "mayonnaise" must be an "emulsified semisolid food prepared from vegetable oil(s)," specific "Acidifying ingredients," and "Egg yolk-containing ingredients," and may contain one or more "Other optional ingredients," including salt.

Unilever claims that, based on the FDA standard of identity, egg-less Just Mayo is lying—despite the company's use of the non-standard term "mayo"—and that this alleged deceit has harmed Hellman's profits. It's seeking millions of dollars in damages and wants the judge to bar Just Mayo from calling itself, well, mayo.

Linnekin interviews Michele Simon, a public health lawyer who's been quoted widely for her extensive research on the labeling controversy, about the case.