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Fat chance: Judge again dismisses trans fat action against ConAgra

Gill Hyslop

By Gill Hyslop+

13-Apr-2017
Last updated on 18-Apr-2017 at 13:14 GMT2017-04-18T13:14:36Z

The amended case against ConAgra alleging its Crunch 'n Munch caramel popcorn contains
The amended case against ConAgra alleging its Crunch 'n Munch caramel popcorn contains "hidden" trans fats has been dismissed by a California federal judge. Pic: ConAgra

The putative class action against ConAgra alleging its Crunch ’n Munch popcorn violates California’s unfair competition law by containing artificial trans fat has again been dismissed.

US district judge Jeffrey White ruled Troy Walker’s amended putative class claims are pre-empted by federal law.

Walker first filed the suit in June 2015, claiming ConAgra “hid” artificial trans fat in its caramel popcorn snack Crunch ‘n Munch by proclaiming “0g trans fat per serving” on the label.

The suit alleged violations of California’s unfair competition, food labeling and false advertising laws and its Consumer Legal Remedies Act, as well as the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and the Lanham Act.

Misleading consumers

Walker also accused the US food giant of reaping profits at the expense of consumers’ health by using partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) in place of safer natural fats.

The California resident, a frequent consumer of the caramel popcorn, asserted PHO is an extremely harmful food additive containing artificial trans fat content that causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

However, the US Food and Drug Administration has determined it can be used and marketed in food products until June 18, 2018.

Walker’s case was dismissed, but he refiled an amended complaint in April 2016.

The case was again dismissed with prejudice, and White denied Walker leave to amend, stating a further amendment would be futile.

White cited two recent decisions from his district involving ConAgra and Nestle USA that held similar trans fat “use” claims were barred by conflict pre-emption.

Following the letter of the law

Daniel Hare, senior director, Communication and External Relations, ConAgra Foods told BakeryandSnacks that PHOs have been removed from the majority of the company’s popcorn products.

“We are on track for full removal within the FDA’s guidelines,” he said.

The case was Troy Walker v. ConAgra Foods Inc., case number 4:15-cv-02424 in the US District Court for the Northern District of California. Walker was represented by the Weston Firm, while ConAgra was represented by McGuireWoods.

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