Greenberg Traurig Wins Landmark Organic Food Product Court of Appeal Case in California

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Greenberg Traurig Wins Landmark Organic Food Product Court of Appeal Case in California

The international law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP represented HerbThyme Farm Inc., in an alleged mislabeling case with enormous national implications for the organic food industry and consumers who purchase and enjoy such products. The California Court of Appeal ruled that state law consumer actions based on mislabeling of food products as “organic” by a certified grower are preempted by federal law, and cannot be maintained in Quesada v. HerbThyme Farms, Inc. (December 23, 2013, Case No. B239602).

In the original case, the plaintiff brought a class action lawsuit alleging the defendant mixed conventional herbs with organic herbs, and then improperly labeled and sold the mixture as “organic.” The plaintiff alleged the defendant violated California’s false advertising laws, Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and unfair competition laws. Greenberg Traurig litigation shareholder Mark D. Kemple led the representation of HerbThyme Farms, Inc. with litigation associate Angela Diesch.

According to court documents, HerbThyme Farms, Inc., a large grower and marketer of herb products, denied any wrongdoing and argued that such state law claims are preempted in any event by the Federal Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, found at 7 U.S.C. §6501, et seq. (“OFPA”). In addition, it argued the OFPA, in effect, mandates that there be one deciding body or umpire on the question of whether food products are organic – namely the USDA or its state designee – and that the USDA alone may define the zone in which such an “organic” designation may fall. HerbThyme Farms, Inc. argued that if individual consumers could second-guess the USDA’s “organic” call through state law consumer actions, industry players would hesitate stepping to the plate. Further, the purpose of the OFPA – attaining a vibrant organic industry in which producers and consumers could rely on a nationwide unifying “organic” standard – would be defeated. In effect, the plaintiff had sought to replace the OFPA and its implementing regulations, the National Organic Program (“NOP”), with a reasonable consumer standard, and sought to replace the federal umpire or USDA with a California state court jury or juries, comprised of individual consumers. The court’s decision supports uniform organic standards regulated by Federal policies, without the risk of private enforcement with subjective opinions of what it means to be organic.

“We are pleased by this ruling and look forward to this further ensuring national consistency with Federal guidelines for the labeling of organic products,” stated Kemple.

Kemple is a first chair litigator with broad experience defending clients against consumer and employment class actions, including false advertising and unfair competition claims relating to the labeling, content and characteristics of food and beverage products. He handles disputes for companies of all sizes, and has tried numerous lawsuits and arbitrations throughout the United States. Kemple has argued appeals in three federal circuits and several state courts of appeal.

Diesch represents natural and organic product manufacturers and distributors with product packaging and labeling issues as well as related litigation including unfair competition, Lanham Act, false advertising, and slack-fill actions brought by both individual parties and government agencies. She is well versed in the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) and the California Organic Products Act (COPA), and assists clients with both certification and resolution of disputes regarding NOP compliance. Diesch is also a member of the firm’s Labor & Employment group with a focus on class action wage and hour and individual employment claims.

About Greenberg Traurig, LLP — California
In California, Greenberg Traurig serves clients from across five offices in Los Angeles, Orange County, Sacramento, San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

About Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Greenberg Traurig, LLP is an international, multi-practice law firm with approximately 1750 attorneys serving clients from 36 offices in the United States, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Greenberg Traurig is among the Top 10 law firms on The National Law Journal's 2013 NLJ 350, an annual ranking of the largest firms in the U.S. For additional information, please visit

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Dawn Moynihan
Greenberg Traurig LLP
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