California’s Proposition 37: An Impending “Natural” Disaster?

Cross-posted at WLF’s Forbes.com contributor site

In a 1960 opinion, Judge Henry Friendly began by asking “what is chicken?”  While an amusing question–even children know a chicken when they see one–the query was more nuanced as a matter of law.  California courts are finding themselves asking a similar question: what is “natural?”

Some products are intuitively so: with raw apples, almonds, or broccoli, it seems apparent.  But what happens when you make apples into apple juice, or roast those almonds, or blanch that broccoli before freezing it for later use?  These finished products are widely considered wholesome, and many would argue an almond is an almond (with the exception of the raw foods movement.)

The dictionary has fifteen different definitions for “natural”.  The first is: “based on an inherent sense of right or wrong”–an intrinsically subjective definition.  Given the ambiguous nature of the term, it’s no wonder the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been loath to come out and define “natural” for advertising and promotional purposes.  But when businesses are begging the FDA to come in and regulate them, something must be amiss.  And indeed, it is.  Lawsuits contesting food companies’ use of the term “natural” have proliferated, most notably in the “Food Court,” i.e. the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.  Businesses now simply want clarity.  And if these lawsuits are really driven by concern for consumers’ well-being, so should the plaintiffs. Continue reading “California’s Proposition 37: An Impending “Natural” Disaster?”