Attorneys Lee N. Smith and Melissa A. Jones participated in the GMA 2012 Food Claims and Litigation Conference in Dana Point. Mr. Smith (his real name) spoke on the effect of the New Food Safety Modernization Act and its potential impact on litigation, and Ms. Jones (her real name) and Mr. Smith also presented an overview of Proposition 65 and recent developments with particular regard to food products.
How FSMA May effect Litigation
It was our premise that FSMA will affect litigation in two main areas. One related to the threshold standards under the statute, which have yet to be defined in detail by law or regulation and two, related to the potential increase in government actions under those standards and the commensurate increase in related plaintiff litigation.
The areas under FSMA that have similar thresholds are those that trigger recalls (Sec. 206) , reporting to the food registry (Sec. 211), deregistration (Sec 102), additional record review (Sec.101) and finally those that may trigger administrative detentions (Sec. 207). The first four sections are triggered by the reasonable probability standard, which is usually taken to be mean more than 50% or more probable than not; which is a low standard to trigger recalls or reporting. The other standard for detention is “A reason to believe” food is “adulterated or misbranded.” for administrative detentions." We believe that these standards will trigger litigation similar to the Del Monte Fresh litigation where industry challenged the FDA's lack of evidence available to require a detention and recall.
With respect to Prop 65 we discussed the Prop 65 listing process, and recent case law California Chamber of Commerce v. Schwarzenegger et al., 196 Cal. App 4th, 233 (2011) that supports listing that comes directly from listing made under the labor code.
We identified a recent preemption case that found that the regulation of poultry did not in fact pre-empt prop 65 (see Physicians Comm. for Responsible Med. v. McDonald’s Corp., 187 Cal. App. 4th 554 (2010) (federal Poultry Products Inspection Act did not preempt Prop 65 warnings) and discussed the naturally occurring defense under Prop 65 which is difficult and can costly to prove.
We also noted a recent sixty day notice for MEI; which was just listed last year. The chemical 4-MEI is a fermentation byproduct in certain food products including caramel coloring, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, wine and ammoniated molasses, as well as ammoniated livestock feed. The chemical is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, photographic chemicals, dyes and pigments, cleaning and agricultural chemicals, and rubber. First Sixty Notice to grocers in Feb. 2012 as to carbonate soft drinks with caramel coloring.
We mentioned the recent listing of Sulphur Dioxide and the current dispute over safe levels. SO2 is a colorless, nonflammable gas with a pungent odor. As a component of ambient air pollution, SO2 is found in combination with sulfuric acid, sulfur trioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and particulates, and its presence in ambient air occurs primarily as a result of fossil fuel consumption at power generation and other industrial facilities
• Used in many food products as a preservative including on Cherries and Raisins.
• Should have been listed as an inhalant hazard only.
Please contact us if you have any questions.
On February 24, 2011, Lee Smith and I presented "How Regulatory Changes Affect Litigation Risks" to the Grocery Manufacturers Association's food litigation conference. A link to the slide-deck can be found here.
We discussed ways that the Reportable Food Registry (RFR) and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) are affecting litigation now and can be expected to affect litigation in the near term.
In particular, we discussed:
- Ongoing and pending changes to the RFR
- FSMA’s grant of records access to FDA
- Mandatory recall authority and how this may delay certain recalls
- Suspension of FDA registration
- Hazard analysis and preventative controls: What are they? How do they differ from HAACP? How they will be effective with or without FDA rulemaking
- Regulation of chemicals under FSMA (and under proposed changes to TSCA and Proposition 65 in California)
- Specific things that food sellers should consider now to reduce risk
Let me know if your business is interested in an in-house, customized presentation or training on the RFR and FSMA.
Stoel Rives was a sponsor of this year's GMA food litigation conference in Austin from February 22 to 25. The slide deck from Ken Odza's presentation on consumer fraud class claims can be viewed by clicking on the image to the left.
Some of the takeaways from my presentation and those by others at the conference include:
- Assure Marketing Is in Sync with R&D (to Avoid Exposure from Consumer Fraud Class Claims) (Ken Odza, Paul Benson, Richard Fama)
The point was underscored in several presentations that exposure on consumer fraud class claims often comes from unsupported marketing claims (health claims in particular). Marketing departments should make sure not only that claims are supported but that the supporting research is not contradicted by other credible internal or external research.
Iqbal/Twombly Makes FRCP 12(b)(6) Motions More Attractive (Ken Odza, Richard Famas)
The Supreme Court has overruled the Conley standard on Rule 8 notice pleading. "Plausibility" is the new pleading standard on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. If the operative allegations are not factually specific and the complained-of-conduct can be explained by another obvious reason, the complaint may be dismissed.
Class Certification in Consumer Fraud Cases Not Likely If Individualized Reliance/Causation Need to Be Proven (Ken Odza)
A court should deny class certification in a consumer fraud case under the FRCP 23(b) "predominance" standard (1) when the proposed class includes multiple states with materially different statutes or (2) where the applicable state law requires an individualized showing of reliance/causation for each class member.
- Inexorable Pursuit of Zero, and the EPA Asserting Itself in Food Safety (Scott Rickman, Bob Brackett)
As technology improves and chemicals can be detected at lower and lower levels, regulators are looking at stricter standards and lower thresholds. EPA, for example, has a renewed emphasis on risk assessments that will inevitably affect food regulation.
- FALCPA Does Not Apply to Restaurants, but "Allergen-Free" and "Gluten-Free" Claims Must Be Supported (Joseph Bottiglieri)
- Pros and Cons Of MDLs (Paul LaScala)
Paul La Scala provided a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of Multi-District Litigation (MDL) from a defendant's perspective.
- FDA Recall Procedures Manual Is a Great Resource and Can Be Found Online (Tom Mazziotti)
The FDA's regulatory procedures manual (or at least the chapters related to recalls) should be mandatory reading as part of any company’s recall preparedness program.
- Class Actions and Mass Torts on the Rise Internationally with More Countries Passing Plaintiff-Friendly Laws (Greg Fowler)
American companies selling products abroad need to be aware of and prepared for litigation abroad with rules that are increasingly unfriendly to business.
U.S. House of Representatives approved HR 2749 moments ago. This action followed some confusion yesterday where it was brought to the floor needing a 2/3 vote and failed. Here’s a link to a report by the Rules Committee including the language of the bill as approved today by the House. Changes to the bill from what was proposed by the Energy and Commerce Committee include amendments aimed at concerns by smaller farmers of the $500 “facility registration fee,” performance standards and record keeping.
The legislation has been the subject of heavy debate inside and outside the beltway. Here’s a link to the Editorial in the New York Times in support of the bill. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA) also has expressed support in a June press release for the bill as marked-up by the Energy and Commerce Committee. From some opposed to the bill, here’s a link with an impassioned argument from yesterday.
Note that the registration requirements in the bill as currently written “does not include farms; private residences of individuals, restaurants, other retail food establishments; nonprofit food establishments in which food is prepared for or served directly to the consumer.”
The bill further exempts from registration farms that sell food primarily at farmers markets. Also exempts farms that “manufacturer grains or other feed stuffs” grown on those farms and distributed to other farms for “consumption as food by humans or animals on such farm.”
Also note that traceability provisions remain. Section 107(c)(2) recognizes that work remains on the regulatory level for FDA to collect information, and develop technology and systems, and establish pilot programs before traceability becomes a reality.
UPDATE - This panel will address emerging issues related to the recalls and investigations related to the Peanut Corporation of America. The panel includes persons intimately involved with these issues. Anybody with an interest in the peanut recall should register and tune-in.
The American Bar Association is presenting its second Hot Topics in Food Law teleconference on February 10, 2009 at 10am Pacific Time (1pm EST). Anybody connected with the food industry and concerned with risks affecting the industry should consider registering. I have been involved with planning this event. No other use of 60 minutes will give you as much insight into the most current issues in food law. The cost begins at $35 for section of litigation members and ranges to $150 for non-ABA members.
Ricardo Carvajal, Of Counsel, Hyman, Phelps, & McNamara, PC, Washington, DC
Sherry A. Marcouiller, Chief Counsel, Food Law, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Northfield, IL