Top 10 Food-Related Lawsuits of 2011 | Squid Ink | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Food & the Law

Top 10 Food-Related Lawsuits of 2011

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Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM

click to enlarge Taco Bell gives thanks for being sued over the contents of its meat - TACO BELL
  • Taco Bell
  • Taco Bell gives thanks for being sued over the contents of its meat
A look at this year through the lens of the food-related lawsuits is like watching the first season of The Killing: an exercise in frustration, bewilderment, and, occasionally, excitement. From the mother who sued Nutella for allegedly misrepresenting its nutritional claims (frustrating) to restaurants suing bloggers for bad reviews (bewildering) to a multi-jurisdictional raid on a members-only food club (exciting), we highlight ten of the year's best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) lawsuits. And eagerly look forward to next year, when we may or may not see who killed Rosie Larsen and the resolution of at least some of these cases.

click to enlarge Culinary school graduates are suing their schools for a refund of their tuition - SCREENSHOT OF LE CORDON BLEU'S TUITION AND FEES
  • Screenshot of Le Cordon Bleu's tuition and fees
  • Culinary school graduates are suing their schools for a refund of their tuition

10. Culinary School Graduates vs. Their Alma Maters. In May, the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco agreed to a $40 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by disaffected graduates who claimed that the school misrepresented their job prospects and the value of their degree. Le Cordon Bleu's network of schools, including the Pasadena location, is facing a similar suit from its former students. And in September, even the school's recruiters got in on the class action: almost two dozen recruiters sued the school for labor violations, alleging that they were not allowed to take breaks and encouraged to work off the clock. The recruiters also claim that the school directed them to meet enrollment quotas using any means possible, even if it meant "misleading students by promising rewarding high-paying jobs, careers, and celebrity status."

If only the students listened to Eric Greenspan: "That you pay law school prices for a fucking minimum wage job is retarded. Don't go to culinary school. Find a chef who's willing to hire you for minimum wage, and get your ass kicked. In two years you're going to learn more than you'd learn in school, and you can get paid for it."

click to enlarge One segment of the sugar industry is suing the other - AVERAGEBETTY/FLICKR

9. Sugar vs. Sugar. In this battle over who gets to be branded the lesser of two evils, table sugar producers, including C & H Sugar Company, sued high fructose corn syrup producers for running ad campaigns that allegedly deceive consumers into believing that corn syrup is equivalent to table sugar. As Marion Nestle says, the lawsuit is clearly more about protecting the sugar industry's pocketbook than much anything else and is just one of too many examples of the politicization of our food system. Consumers would do well to watch their intakes of all sugars, period.

click to enlarge A lawsuit alleges that Vita Coco misrepresents its health claims. - T. NGUYEN
  • T. Nguyen
  • A lawsuit alleges that Vita Coco misrepresents its health claims.

8. Coconut Water Drinkers vs. Vita Coco and O.N.E. Coconut Water. In August, a Consumerlab.com test revealed that coconut water brands Vita Coco and O.N.E. Coconut Water's health claims may not quite true: both products contained significantly less sodium and magnesium than were listed on their nutrition labels, and had far less hydrating electrolytes than they claimed to have. A class action lawsuit was promptly filed against the manufacturers for misrepresenting their health benefits, and currently is pending in the Los Angeles Superior Court.

click to enlarge A jar of Nutella - BRIANC/FLICKR

7. "Shocked" Mother Who Doesn't Read Nutrition Labels vs. Nutella. In February, a San Diego mother was shocked - shocked! - to discover from her friends (and not, say, the food label) that Nutella is not nearly as healthy as she initially thought. Had the company's commercials and other advertisements not fooled her into believing that the spread was high in nutrition, she claims, she would not have fed her kid the hazelnut chocolate poison every morning. Those of us in favor of reading will be sorely disappointed to learn that the producer of Nutella, Ferrero USA, appears to have settled the case last month, after the federal court certified the lawsuit as a class action.

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