Food Labeling

Consumers Have a Right to Sue Over Fake Organic Food, Cali Court Rules

State and federal prosecutors aren't the only ones with the authority to question organic food labeling ruled the state Supreme Court.

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Tim Psych/Flickr

The California Supreme Court has paved the way for consumers to sue over foods falsely labeled "organic." The Thursday decision reverses a lower court ruling that only state and federal prosecutors could challenge organic food labeling. 

The case comes from a lawsuit filed by California resident Michele Quesada, who alleged that Herb Thyme Farms' "organic" herbs actually contained a mix of organic and non-organic plants. The company countered that it had been granted permission by Department of Agriculture authorities to use the organic label. 

In 2013, the 2nd District Court of Appeals held that Quesada had no standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place, since Congress intended only state and federal officials to have the authority to police organic food. This was necessary order to facilitate national standards for organic labeling, it said.  

But California's high court disagreed, holding that federal law does not stop consumers from filing civil lawsuits against foodmakers. In fact, allowing consuming to challenge inaccurately labeled products only furthers the goal of stopping food fraud. 

"State lawsuits alleging intentional organic mislabeling promote, rather than hinder, Congress's purposes and objectives," wrote Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar in the Supreme Court's unanimous decision, which reinstated Quesada's lawsuit.