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Cargill to settle deceptive marketing lawsuit alleging Truvia stevia-based sweetener is not ‘natural’

4 commentsBy Elaine WATSON , 20-Sep-2013
Last updated the 21-Sep-2013 at 00:44 GMT

Cargill: 'Putting this behind us enables us to focus all our attention on our products and our consumers'
Cargill: 'Putting this behind us enables us to focus all our attention on our products and our consumers'

Cargill has agreed to settle a proposed class action lawsuit alleging it is misleading shoppers by marketing its Truvia consumer products (which contain stevia extract Reb-A and erythritol) as ‘natural’.

The lawsuit - filed in Minnesota by plaintiffs Molly Martin and Lauren Barry on behalf of a proposed nationwide class of consumers - alleged that Cargill has misled shoppers by marketing Truvia consumer products as ‘natural’ because they contain ingredients that are “highly processed” and/or derived from GMOs.

Under the settlement - which is subject to court approval and will be discussed at a preliminary hearing on October 23 - Cargill has not admitted any liability and “continues to deny that its marketing, advertising, and/or labeling of the Truvia Consumer Products is false, deceptive, or misleading to consumers or violates any legal requirement”.

While the complaint has not been certified as a class action, Cargill has agreed to recognize a nationwide class of consumers “solely for the purpose of compromising and settling those claims on a class basis”, and will create a $5m fund to cover cash refunds or vouchers for consumers that bought selected Truvia products.

If the nationwide settlement is approved by the Court, it will resolve all similar claims, said Cargill, which was hit with a similar lawsuit in July filed in Hawaii by plaintiff Denise Howerton.

Cargill: We always believed this matter to be without merit or substance

Nicole Reichert, external communications manager for Cargill Corn Milling North America, told FoodNavigator-USA that Cargill would continue to market Truvia as 'natural', adding: "Our Truvia natural sweetener products are made with natural ingredients and meet all legal and regulatory requirements."

Asked why Cargill had agreed to settle, she added: “We always believed this matter to be without merit or substance. Putting this behind us enables us to focus all our attention on our products and our consumers."

Cargill has agreed to several label modifications

Under the proposed settlement, Cargill has agreed to either add an asterisk to its ‘Nature’s calorie-free sweetener’ tagline inviting consumers to look at the FAQ page of its website, or change the tagline to ‘Calorie-free sweetener from the stevia leaf’ or something similar

Cargill has also agreed to modify product labels, and will either add an asterisk to its ‘Nature’s calorie-free sweetener’ tagline inviting consumers to look at the FAQ page of its website, or will change the tagline to ‘Calorie-free sweetener from the stevia leaf’ or something similar.

Separately, it has agreed to change the phrase ‘Erythritol is a natural sweetener, produced by a natural process, and is also found in fruits like grapes and pears’ to: ‘Erythritol is a natural sweetener, produced by a fermentation process. Erythritol is also found in fruits like grapes and pears.’

Meanwhile, the FAQ section of its website will also be updated, and will address the GMO issue:

In response to the question, "Does Truvia natural sweetener contain GMO? Is it genetically modified?", Cargill will say:

"No. Truvia natural sweetener is not GMO, and does not contain any genetically modified ingredients... The erythritol used in Truvia... is produced by a yeast organism that is found in nature. The yeast ferments or digests dextrose and other nutrients... The dextrose... is a simple sugar derived from the starch component of US-grown corn. Although genetically enhanced corn and non-transgenic corn are grown in the US today, erythritol is not derived from corn or dextrose feedstock; it is derived from the yeast organism. Erythritol is not genetically modified, and does not contain any genetically modified proteins."

Natural label claims

The case is just one of hundreds of similar civil suits filed against large food and beverage companies for allegedly misleading consumers with ‘natural’ claims in recent years.

Cargill: "We always believed this matter to be without merit or substance. Putting this behind us enables us to focus all our attention on our products and our consumers."

While many of these cases have been settled, scores are still moving through the courts and a handful - specifically referring to whether foods containing ingredients from genetically engineered crops are ‘natural’ - are currently on ice as judges wait to see if the FDA will step in and make a determination on this issue.

The FDA follows a 1993 policy that states: “[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term [‘natural’] on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances.”

However, this does not help firms fighting lawsuits over high fructose corn syrup; maltodextrin; partially hydrogenated vegetable oils; ingredients extracted using organic solvents such as hexane; GMOs and a whole raft of other substances some stakeholders argue do not belong in a product labeled as ‘natural’.

To download the settlement (PDF), click here.

4 comments (Comments are now closed)

"Natural" is meaningless anyway

There is no regulatory definition of "natural" because it is meaningless. Yes, stevia is a plant leaf, but rebA is a highly refined (with solvents such as ethanol) extract of that leaf. Erythritol is the fermentation product of a "natural" yeast, but uses as its feed source carbohydrate from GM corn. Sure, there is no GM material in the final product, but is that the only thing consumers object to about GM? I don't think so. If you label a product "organic", not only the final product but all steps of the production as well as ingredients used along the supply chain have to be organic (and there are very detailed and complete definitions of that). If the regulators can't define "natural" marketers should not be allowed to use it.

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Posted by Carolyn
27 September 2013 | 22h09

Duped How?

Truvia has a label that says it comes from Stevia and Erythritol. Stevia is a plant (can't get much more natural than that) and Erythritol is made from a plant and is NOT GMO! So what's the beef? I think this law suit, like so many others is just a way for people to make some money they don't deserve. I use Truvia all the time and it NEVER effects my hypoglycemia like other sweeteners (it's been proven that it doesn't effect your blood sugar) and it's not going to destroy your liver or your brain like aspartame or splenda. And won't GIVE you diabetes like high fructose corn syrup.

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Posted by Sandra
25 September 2013 | 20h11

Re: Duped

So you are blaming your diabetes on Truvia? I'm no doctor, but I find this extremely hard to believe.

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Posted by DS
24 September 2013 | 20h45

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