US-based National Beverage Corporation, maker of LaCroix sparkling water, is fighting back against a class action lawsuit filed by law firm Beaumont Costales.
Beaumont Costales – which positions itself as specialist in consumer and workers’ rights – claims that the LaCroix range, which commands a reported 30% share of the US sparkling water category in the United States, uses synthetic ingredients in its products, despite its ‘all natural’ claims.
Acting on behalf of lead plaintiff Lenora Rice, Beaumont Costales alleges that National Beverage’s use of ‘all natural’ and ‘100% natural’ on its products is intentionally misleading to consumers. The law firm claims that tests it called for revealed the presence of “a number of artificial ingredients” in LaCroxi products.
But in a series of press releases and social media comments, National Beverage has attacked the lawsuit – asserting that that all the allegations contained in it are “without basis in fact or law” – and accused “critics of using cruel and heartless descriptions” of its products. In a release dated 18 October, the company announced that fresh tests by a “certified independent laboratory” had confirmed that “no trace of artificial or synthetic additives was found”.
The LaCroix case may ultimately rest on technicalities, and the complex and frequently disputed question of what is natural. The subject has proven a fertile one for law firms in the US in recent years, triggering a spate of legal battles, as the Washington Post reported last year.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), use of the term ‘natural’ on food products is considered to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including colourants) has been included in, or added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. ‘Natural’ ingredients must be derived from a plant or animal source, but flavours can contain synthetic preservatives.
But as some commentators have pointed out, even the the FDA’s own definition of ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ can appear far from clear. Illustrating the confusion that exists, the website Popular Science has note that the chemical compound limonene – one of the ‘synthetic’ ingredients Beaumont Costales alleges is contained in LaCroix products – is defined by the PubChem database as “a naturally naturally chemical”.
Then there is the question of actual risk to health, regardless of the natural (or otherwise) credentials of a food ingredient. Popular Science quotes Roger Clemens, a specialist in food and regulatory science at the University of Southern California, who comments that “whether a substance is ‘natural’ or ‘synthetic’ should not be a health issue,” adding that, “it’s all about safety as assessed by experts in nutrition, food science, food toxicology, and medicine.”