Trials & Litigation

Hungry lawyers, health-conscious clients make Bay Area ground zero in Big Food fight

The same lawyers who once took on the tobacco industry are now waging legal war against so-called Big Food makers in half a dozen states.

But the San Francisco Bay Area, known for its health-conscious foodie residents, is ground zero for such litigation, which hungry lawyers have pursued in dozens of class actions piling up on the plates of federal judges in Northern California, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

The claims, which can add up to seven figures or more, typically focus on alleged inaccurate labeling concerning ingredients and/or health benefits. For example, attorney Pierce Gore of San Jose, who brought most of the Bay Area cases, alleged in a recent suit that a package of pretzels prominently featured claims that they are “fat free” and “all natural,” but buried the high sodium content in the fine print on the back. This, he contends, violates both state and federal law.

“You don’t have to lie to be profitable,” he tells the newspaper. “This is much larger than tobacco. Not everybody smokes. But everybody eats.”

However, the food industry says the megabucks suits are about racking up hefty fees for plaintiffs lawyers rather than benefiting consumers. Although individual damages may be low, the potential cost not only of litigation but of relabeling gives makers an incentive to settle, the article points out.

“Both parties appear to agree this case is a David-vs.-Goliath battle,” wrote U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal in a recent San Jose ruling. “Where they disagree is which party is the Goliath and which is the David.”

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