Litigation Project - Closed Cases
AIRBORNE. CSPI joined a lawsuit in California state court against the makers of Airborne, the best-selling cold "remedy" in the country. There is no evidence that Airborne works, aside from the slight possible benefit from Vitamin C in the product. Airborne is completely ineffective in preventing colds, as the company claimed for years. The company agreed to settle the lawsuit by refunding money to defrauded consumers out of a settlement fund of $23.3 million. Separately, the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General settled with Airborne on the same claims.
In July 2010, the federal district court ordered distribution of more than $7,000,000 that remained in the settlement fund after all claims by class members had been paid. The payments are directed (in varying amounts) to eight organizations that had submitted proposals for projects "intended to prevent or cure the common cold, flu, or other illness; research and other efforts to raise consumer awareness of and/or educating consumers about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements; research and other efforts to ensure the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements intended to prevent or cure the common cold, flu, or other illness; research and other efforts to raise consumer awareness of and/or educating consumers about the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements; research and other efforts to ensure the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements." These organizations' proposals were awarded by the court:
- ALS Association of Greater Los Angeles
- California Primary Care Association
- Children's Hospital Corporation-Boston
- Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.
- Harvard School of Public Health
- National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Southern California Chapter
- Public Citizen Foundation, Inc.
- Public Justice Foundation
ANHEUSER-BUSCH. The Center for Science in the Public Interest notified Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company of its intent to sue the companies over caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Anheuser-Busch's Bud Extra and Tilt, and Miller's Sparks. The drinks, dubbed "alcospeed" by CSPI, have more alcohol than beer and contain stimulant additives that are not officially approved for use in alcoholic drinks, including caffeine, taurine, ginseng, or guarana. No studies are available to support the safety of consuming those stimulants and alcohol together—but new research does indicate that the young consumers of these type of drinks are more likely to binge drink, become injured, ride with an intoxicated driver, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks. The viral marketing campaigns behind the drinks are clearly designed to appeal to young, and often underage, drinkers, according to CSPI. Unlike Miller, Anheuser-Busch agreed to talk and CSPI was able to reach a settlement without needing to file suit. As part of the settlement with CSPI, Anheuser-Busch will remove the caffeine, guarana, and ginseng from its alcoholic beverages Tilt and Bud Extra. The company, which also settled with 11 state Attorneys General, agreed to remove the Tilt and Bud Extra web sites until those drinks are reformulated without the stimulants, and the company will urge competitors to cease production of their caffeinated alcoholic drinks.
ARIZONA Rx TEAS. CSPI joined lawsuits brought by private plaintiffs after Arizona Beverages ignored an FDA warning that it was making illegal claims of disease prevention and treatment with its Rx line of drinks. The courts dismissed the claims, and FDA never took enforcement action.
AUNT JEMIMA (frozen) BLUEBERRY WAFFLES. Pinnacle Foods, the manufacturer, agreed to revise labels to make it clear that there was no actual fruit in the waffles and that the so-called blueberries were artificial bits.
BAYER. CSPI notified Bayer Healthcare of its intent to sue the company over claims that the selenium in two One A Day men's multivitamins reduces the risk of prostate cancer because recent studies show otherwise. In fact, a new study published the Journal of Clinical Oncology revealed that selenium may actually promote more aggressive cases of prostate cancer. With the support of leading prostate-cancer researchers, CSPI urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stop these deceptive claims immediately.
Following a complaint to the FTC, CSPI filed a separate complaint with the Food and Drug Administration in response to One A Day's misleading and deceptive labeling. Bayer's claims that its Men's Health Formula reduces the risk of prostate cancer and its 50+ Advantage variety "supports prostate health" are illegal due to a lack of scientific evidence. According to news reports, the company may be retracting the claim that selenium reduces the risk of prostate cancer but has not agreed to remove the more general deceptive claims regarding "prostate health."
After CSPI notified Bayer that it was acting illegally, Bayer took some steps to remove cancer-prevention claims from its labels and ads. However, Bayer refused to commit to CSPI that it would not resume the same illegal behavior in the future, and in fact threatened to sue CSPI for libel for what CSPI had said about Bayer. Rather than give in to Bayer's threats, CSPI sued Bayer in California. That lawsuit was dismissed on procedural grounds. CSPI was preparing to refile when the Attorneys General of Oregon, California, and Illinois announced a broad settlement with Bayer on the same issues. This settlement achieved results similar to the relief CSPI sought, so CSPI advised Bayer that it would not proceed with a second, unnecessary lawsuit.
BETTY CROCKER. After CSPI met with General Mills about their Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix, which has only a tiny amount of dehydrated carrots, General Mills put a front-label notice on the package to let consumers know that the product contains only carrot-flavored bits.
BURGER KING. The third largest U.S. restaurant chain lagged far behind competitors in removing partially-hydrogenated oil, the deadly trans-fat-laden ingredient, from its fried foods, which placed Burger King's customers at a higher risk of heart disease. After Burger King refused to remove trans fats voluntarily, CSPI filed suit asking the District of Columbia Superior Court to order the restaurant chain to stop using trans fat, or at least to require prominent warning notices on Burger King's menu boards. Burger King tried to move the case to federal court in DC, but the federal court completely rejected Burger King's arguments and sent the case back to DC Superior Court. In late 2008, Burger King became the last of the big fast-food chains to stop using trans fats, and shortly after that, the Superior Court dismissed CSPI's lawsuit, holding that CSPI did not have standing.
CADBURY SCHWEPPES. CSPI had also been in talks with Cadbury over its use of "natural" to describe 7-UP, also sweetened with HFCS. Within days of the suit against Kraft for Capri Sun, Cadbury agreed to drop the "natural" claim, and CSPI dropped a planned lawsuit against the company. Shortly after that, Cadbury agreed that it would remove "natural" from its Snapple brand as well.
CAPRI SUN. CSPI met with Kraft officials to obtain their agreement to stop calling Capri Sun drinks "natural" because they are sweetened with the very-unnatural high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Kraft initially refused but after CSPI filed suit against Kraft, the company announced that they were in the process of getting rid of the claim.
DENNY'S. CSPI joined a class-action lawsuit filed in Superior Court of New Jersey in Middlesex County to compel Denny's to disclose sodium levels on its menus and include warnings for high sodium content. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day, but some Denny's meals provide 4,000 or 5,000 mg—more than most adults should eat in three days. Diets high in sodium are a major cause of high blood pressure, which in turn cause heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading cause of death in the United States. Many health experts consider high dietary sodium levels to be one of the nation's top health threats, and reducing the sodium content of packaged and restaurant foods by half would save at least 150,000 lives per year. This case is now on appeal, after the trial court ruled that New Jersey law did not permit a consumer to sue Denny’s for its violations of the New Jersey consumer law provisions preventing fraud in menus, based on the incorrect determination that the lawsuit was based on personal injury. In fact, the lawsuit simply sought disclosure of the astounding levels of sodium in Denny’s meals.
The appellate court denied CSPI's appeal on procedural grounds.
ENVIGA. Coca-Cola makes Enviga, an artificially sweetened green tea soda. It claims that the drink has "negative calories" and labels it as "the calorie burner" on cans. But according to CSPI scientists who reviewed the studies cited by Coke, Enviga is just a highly caffeinated and overpriced diet soda. In December 2006, CSPI formally notified Coke of plans to sue if it continued using unsubstantiated calorie-burning and weight-loss claims. After Coke indicated that it had no plans to change the claims, CSPI filed suit in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, part of the region where the beverage was first sold. The trial judge ruled in favor of Coke, and the case is now on appeal.
CSPI will not appeal a federal appeals court decision blocking a New Jersey woman's lawsuit over false weight-loss claims made by Coca-Cola for Enviga. Under a February 2009 settlement agreement reached with 27 states and the District of Columbia, Coca-Cola agreed to pay $650,000 and to stop making overt weight-loss claims for Enviga. Coke (and partner Nestlé) agreed to add language to labels and marketing materials stating that the product will not promote weight loss without diet and exercise. Since then, sales have plummeted and Enviga has faded into obscurity.
FAT FREE PRINGLES. As with Frito-Lay, CSPI negotiated with Procter & Gamble to change the labels of Fat Free Pringles (now Pringles Lights) to make the presence of olestra clearer.
- New Olestra Complaints Bring Total Close To 20,000—More Than All Other Food Additive Complaints In History Combined 4/02
FRITO-LAY LIGHTS. After a petition by Procter & Gamble and Frito-Lay, the FDA reversed as prior decision and allowed the companies to omit the warning on packages of foods containing the fake fat olestra, which causes mild to severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps in some consumers. Frito-Lay then removed all references to olestra, except in the ingredients statements, so that consumers would not know what they were buying. Sales of the products increased significantly, as did the number of adverse-reaction reports filed on CSPI's Web site. CSPI negotiated an agreement with Frito-Lay to change the labels of its chips to make the presence of olestra clearer.
GENERAL MILLS. CSPI's litigation department negotiated a settlement with General Mills, ending a class action lawsuit against the company for misleading consumers about the nutritional and health qualities of its "fruit" snacks. General Mills Fruit Roll-ups, Fruit by the Foot, and Fruit Gusher snacks lack any significant amount of real fruit and are instead made mostly of sugars, artificial additives, and artificial dyes. The settlement agreement stipulates that so long as General Mills Strawberry Naturally Flavored Fruit Roll-Ups contain no strawberries (it is instead made with pears from concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, and 2 percent or less various natural and artificial ingredients) the new labels will not depict images of strawberries. General Mills has also agreed to include the actual percentage of fruit in the product when making the claim "Made with Real Fruit." Both changes will take effect in 2014.
GERBER. Gerber marketed its Graduates for Toddlers Fruit Juice Snacks in a very deceptive manner—decorating the package with pictures of oranges, cherries and strawberries when the leading ingredients are corn syrup and sugar. In 2005, CSPI criticized this product as part of its round-up of deceptive marketing claims. "You can guess why Gerber doesn't call these things Corn Syrup Snacks-no parent would buy them," said CSPI Director of Legal Affairs Bruce Silverglade. This is candy, not fruit juice."
A private plaintiff filed a lawsuit about these claims, which were initially dismissed but later reinstated by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on December 22, 2008.
The Court of Appeals relied heavily on Friend of the Court briefs filed by CSPI and the California Attorney General. The court agreed the claims should proceed in federal district court, confirming the right of consumers to rely on claims made on the front of a box rather than assuming the company was lying and scouring the rest of the label to find the truth. CSPI is not involved in the case, now proceeding in federal district court.
KELLOGG. In a landmark legal settlement with CSPI, The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and two Massachusetts parents, Kellogg Company agreed to adopt nutrition standards for the foods it advertises to young children. Foods advertised on children's media—such as Nickelodeon and other TV, radio, print, and third-party Web sites that have an audience of 50 percent or more children under age 12—will have to meet Kellogg's new nutrition standards. Also, it will not use licensed characters, such as SpongeBob, in advertising and on packages unless those foods meet the nutrition standards. For all products, Kellogg agreed to stop sponsoring product placements in children's media and to stop advertising in preschools and elementary schools.
- Kellogg Makes Historic Settlement Agreement, Adopting Nutrition Standards For Marketing Foods To Children 4/07
KFC. The primary purpose of this lawsuit was to force KFC to stop using oils rich in trans fat for frying and other purposes, or at least make the chain warn customers of the risks of partially hydrogenated oil. Several months after the lawsuit was filed, KFC announced that it would switch to a healthier cooking oil for most of its products. Presumably, the lawsuit accelerated KFC's action. CSPI dropped out of the lawsuit, which was filed jointly by a Washington law firm, as soon as KFC made its announcement.
MCDONALD'S. On June 22, 2010, CSPI notified McDonald's that if the company continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals, CSPI will file suit to stop that practice. Using toys to lure small children into McDonald's is unfair and deceptive marketing, which is illegal under various state consumer protection laws.
"McDonald's is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children," said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. "McDonald's use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children's developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It's a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction."
According to CSPI, getting children accustomed to eating burgers, fries, and soda puts them at greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes or other diet-related diseases. Since the lawsuit began, McDonald's has made minor nutritional adjustments to the composition of its Happy Meals.
"But regardless of the nutritional quality of what's being sold, the practice of tempting kids with toys is inherently deceptive," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "I'm sure that industry's defenders will blame parents for not saying ‘no' to their children.Parents do bear much of the responsibility, but multi-billion-dollar corporations make parents' job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising."
The practice of using toy promotions to promote fast food to children is under scrutiny elsewhere, too. In May 2010, the Santa Clara County, Calif., Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance preventing McDonald's and other restaurants from including toys or other kid-oriented incentives with the purchase of unhealthy meals. Then, in November 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a similar ordinance.
Monet Parham, with the help of CSPI's litigation department, filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald's in December 2010. Unfortunately, on April 4, 2012 the California state court dismissed the lawsuit holding parents completely responsible for protecting their children from McDonald's targeted advertising. CSPI respectfully disagrees with the Court's decision. 6/25
MILLERCOORS BREWING CO. Although Anheuser-Busch settled with CSPI and several state Attorneys General, MillerCoors refused to talk after CSPI wrote both MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, and continued to market Sparks—an alcoholic energy drink that contained stimulant additives that are not approved for use in alcoholic drinks, including caffeine, taurine, ginseng, and guarana. Dubbed "alcospeed," Sparks had more alcohol than beer. No studies support the safety of consuming those stimulants and alcohol together, but new research does indicate young consumers of these type of drinks are more likely to binge drink, become injured, ride with an intoxicated driver, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of conventional alcoholic drinks. The viral marketing campaigns behind the drinks are clearly designed to appeal to young, and often underage, drinkers, according to CSPI. After MillerCoors spurned CSPI's offer to talk before suit, CSPI sued MillerCoors. After the lawsuit was filed, state Attorneys General reached agreement with MillerCoors to stop selling alcoholic beverages with stimulants, and MillerCoors confirmed to CSPI that it would stop this practice nationwide, not just in the states the Attorneys General represent. CSPI has agreed to dismiss its lawsuit because this outcome is relief enough. Now that MillerCoors has joined Anheuser-Busch in removing alcospeed beverages, the risks are much reduced.
NESTLE CSPI's litigation department and Nestle have negotiated an agreement whereby Nestle will remove the terms "all natural flavors" and "made with natural ingredients" from its Edy's/Dreyer's ice creams. Several varieties of Edy's Slow Churned (Light) and Grand ice creams carried labels that stated "made with natural ingredients*" on the front of the carton, with the asterisk carrying consumers to a partial list of "natural" ingredients on the back on the carton. However the complete list of ingredients found elsewhere on the package disclosed that the ice creams included the non-natural ingredients cocoa processed with alkali and corn syrup. This kind of partial ingredient list, highlighting only the "natural" ingredients is misleading and deceptive to consumers. Per the agreement with CSPI, Nestle will remove the "hybrid" or "split" ingredient label from Edy's/Dreyer's ice creams, and will present consumers with a single ingredient list. 10/12
PFIZER CONSUMER HEALTHCARE In April 2011, CSPI sent a letter to Pfizer Consumer Healthcare (Pfizer) notifying the company of CSPI’s intent to sue over certain health claims that were being made on Centrum Dietary Supplements.
"For many consumers, a daily multivitamin is an inexpensive insurance policy to make sure that one's getting the recommended daily amounts of important vitamins and minerals," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "But supplement manufacturers must not mislead consumers into thinking that these pills will help ward off cancer."
CSPI was pleased when Pfizer came to the table in a collaborative spirit. On July 5, 2012, Pfizer and CSPI negotiated an agreement resolving most of the concerns in the April 2011 letter. Pfizer agreed to remove claims related to breast and colon health on advertising and labeling for certain Centrum brand multivitamin supplements, and to modify other claims. The changes negotiated with CSPI were made on Pfizer web sites and advertising within 30 days of the agreement, and changes on product labels were implemented over the next six months as supplies of packaging were depleted. The revised packaging is now available in stores. 2/13
QUAKER OATS. CSPI contacted Quaker about label and ad claims that significantly exaggerated the minimal effect oatmeal might have on lowering cholesterol. The company agreed to modify its claims. CSPI also previously negotiated with Quaker to revise labels for several varieties of instant oatmeal and grits so that consumers would know that the products did not contain any real fruit, real butter, or real meats (ham, bacon), as the labels imply.
QUORN. CSPI filed suit in Connecticut on behalf of a consumer who bought Quorn Naked Cutlets at a Connecticut store, accusing Quorn Foods of not disclosing on labels the fact that some people have serious allergic reactions to the main ingredient in its Quorn line of meat substitutes. That ingredient happens to be a fungus—mold, actually—discovered in the 1960s in a British dirt sample. The company grows the fungus in vats and processes it into a fibrous, proteinaceous paste. But more than a thousand people have reported to the Center for Science in the Public Interest that they have suffered adverse reactions, including nausea, violent vomiting, uncontrollable diarrhea, and even life-threatening anaphylactic reactions after eating the patties, cutlets, tenders and other products made with Quorn's fungus.
The plaintiff ate Quorn's Chik'n Patties on three separate occasions in 2008. Each time, within two hours of eating the product, she became violently ill. Thinking she had had a stomach virus, she didn't realize that she was reacting to the Quorn until the third time she ate one of the patties, after which she vomited seven or eight times within two hours. "I felt like the soles of my feet were going to come out of my mouth, I was vomiting so hard," she said. Following an unsuccessful effort by Quorn to move the case to federal court, the lawsuit is proceeding in Connecticut state court.
Quorn then filed a motion to dismiss which is currently under review by the court.
The Judge has dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the possibility of FDA action preempts state laws.
RED BULL. Red Bull, Inc. markets its Red Bull energy drink as a mixer for alcohol, and consumers frequently drink Red Bull in cocktails mixed at home, restaurants and bars. However, Red Bull is not a safe mixer in alcoholic drinks. In fact, it is potentially fatal. Research shows that, compared to drinkers who consume alcohol alone, drinkers who mix energy drinks such as Red Bull with alcohol are twice as likely to require hospitalization, to drive drunk, to ride with a drunk driver, to assault someone sexually, or to be a victim of a sexual assault.
If you have suffered a negative experience because of consuming Red Bull mixed with alcohol, we would appreciate your completing this simple form. It will only take a few minutes. Your report will be very helpful in understanding the extent of the problems caused by mixing Red Bull with alcohol and in protecting other consumers.
SARA LEE. CSPI notified Sara Lee of its intent to sue based on misleading claims on labels for the company's "Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread." As part of a settlement agreement with CSPI, Sara Lee agreed to change its labels to make it clear the product contains only 30 percent whole grains rather than claiming the product is nutritionally equivalent to 100 percent whole wheat bread. The new labels will also state two slices of bread contain 10 grams of whole grains, and the government recommends consuming 48 grams per day.
SCHOOL SOFT DRINKS. CSPI's negotiations with the major soft drink companies to get soft drinks out of public schools contributed to an agreement announced through the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association. Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Cadbury Schweppes agreed to phase-out sugary soft drinks from schools.
SPLENDA. Splenda is an artificial sweetener, but its makers (McNeil-PPC, Inc. and McNeil Nutritionals, LLC) promote Splenda in a way that misleads consumers into believing that Splenda is a simply natural form of sugar without the calories: "Made From Sugar, Tastes Like Sugar." CSPI's consumer research surveys showed that consumers think that Splenda as "natural" or "not an artificial product." In truth, Splenda is a synthetic chemical that contains chlorine and is not natural. The Sugar Association sued McNeil on behalf of its members, to stop this deceptive practice. McNeil moved to dismiss the suit, claiming in part that the Sugar Association had waited too long to sue. CSPI filed an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief, advising the court that it is in the public's interest to stop fraudulent and misleading marketing at any point – even four years after the start of the deceptive Splenda campaign. The court agreed with CSPI's position, and denied the motion to dismiss.
STARBUCKS. After CSPI publicized the possibility of a lawsuit against Starbucks for the presence of trans fat in numerous pastry products, Starbucks met with CSPI in July 2006. This meeting may have expedited Starbucks' January 2, 2007 announcement that it was immediately eliminating trans fat in half of its U.S. stores (with the other half changing by the end of 2007).
TROPICANA PEACH PAPAYA. At the request of a private attorney, CSPI joined in a lawsuit against PepsiCo based on the fact that Tropicana Peach Papaya juice drink (1) contains no peach, (2) contains no papaya, and (3) is not a juice. Shortly after CSPI joined the litigation, PepsiCo agreed to modify its labels for Tropicana Peach Papaya, Tropicana Strawberry Melon, and Tropicana Twisters (even though the last two were not included in the lawsuit) to make it clear to consumers that these are artificially flavored drinks with very little actual juice.