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‘Made in USA’ Advocate Wants Court to Order Trader Joe’s to Comply With COOL

Joel D. Joseph, chairman of the Los Angeles-based Made in USA Foundation, announced Tuesday that he wants a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit he filed in April against Trader Joe’s over country-of-origin labeling (COOL). Joseph claims Trader Joe’s labeling of fresh meat and produce is misleading and confusing, and he’s filed the lawsuit on behalf of members of the general public who have purchased the products over the past three years.

Filed in California’s Superior Court in Los Angeles County, Joseph’s complaint is based on lettuce, spinach and meat purchases he made at Trader Joe’s stores in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, CA.

“Many of these products were labeled ‘Product of USA and Mexico,’ some meat products are labeled ‘Product of Australia, USA, Nicaragua and New Zealand,’ and similar labels that are inaccurate, misleading and not in compliance with California and Federal law,” the complaint states.

Trader Joe’s has not commented on the lawsuit.

Regulatory challenges in Washington, D.C., and World Trade Organization (WTO) disputes have been brought over COOL, but Joseph’s consumer lawsuit brings a new aspect to the ongoing controversy. His Made in USA Foundation has promoted “Made in USA” products since 1989.

“I helped draft, lobby and achieve the passage of the federal Country of Origin Labeling Act,” Joseph says. “The entire purpose of [the] Country of Origin Labeling Act is that no commingling would be allowed so that consumers could choose American food over foreign if they so desired.”

He says that under both COOL and the California Supreme Court’s “Kwikset” decision, consumers in the Golden State have a right to know where the food products they buying are grown or raised.

COOL first emerged as part of the Farm Bill in 2002 and has been around ever since under various regulatory schemes. The issue has brought the U.S. ongoing challenges before the WTO from Canada and Mexico for unfair trade practices.

According to the Joseph lawsuit, “Covered commodities include muscle cuts of beef (including veal), lamb, chicken, goat, and pork; ground beef, ground lamb, ground chicken, ground goat, and ground pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities; macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng; and peanuts.”

The complaint alleges that Trader Joe’s labeling amounts to unlawful business acts and practices and commission of untrue and misleading advertising.

“Plaintiff and 80 percent of the general public, desires to purchase American-made groceries,” Joseph writes in the complaint. “When plaintiff purchased his groceries at Trader Joe’s, there was no way that he knew the country of origin of the meat and produce.”

In addition to asking for damages at a hearing now scheduled for Aug. 22, Joseph will ask the state court for injunctive relief in the form of an order to Trader Joe’s to immediately correct its labeling practices.

“Plaintiff moves for a preliminary injunction to require defendant Trader Joe’s Company to label its fresh produce and meat and chicken products in compliance with the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Act and the regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture implementing this law,” Joseph’s motion states.

He provided the court with four exhibits to illustrate Trader Joe’s current labeling practices.

Monrovia, CA-based Trader Joe’s is a privately held retail grocery chain of 418 stores in 38 states with more than 10,000 employees.

© Food Safety News
  • JK47

    I fully understand a consumers desire to purchase items that are raised and produced in the USA. That is great, and the fact that we are able to produce items for sale that never leave our borders before they make it in your home is another great thing.
    But suing for damages because you are just now concerned over the labeling of a product is what makes some of our country just down right pathetic! I understand if the mislabeling lead to any illness or death because of any practices that the product underwent in one of the other countries, when filing for damages, but why the damages.
    The only part of this that makes any sense when suing for damages is to make Trader Joe’s take it for real.

    • flame

      That’s all they understand is being hit in the pockets to make them at least take notice and hopefully change their ways. I have no problem with asking for monetary damages especially when you’re don’t comply with the law, regulations, rules, guidelines etc.

    • Joel D. Joseph

      We are suing for an injunction to stop mislabeling

  • Catherine J Frompovich

    If, “He says that under both COOL and the California Supreme Court’s “Kwikset” decision, consumers in the Golden State have a right to know where the food products they buying are grown or raised,” shouldn’t consumers have equal rights to know VIA LABEL that GMO/GE ingredients are included in the produce/product, I ask.
    GMO/GE foods contain other “things/ingredients” that heirloom foods do not, e.g., genetic tinkering products (nano-particles), ingredients, chemicals, etc., which make them DNA-altered and different than heirloom seeds/food or what is considered food that humans evolved with over time.
    What happened to Truth in Labeling laws in general? It would seem that the U.S. FDA is the prime offender since it won’t permit GMO/GE foods to be labeled as such. That FDA ‘directive’ has to be changed by Congress in order to diffuse the influence corporations and their lobbyists have or maintain, especially Monsanto’s former chief lobbyist Michael Taylor, who now is “Deputy Commissioner for Foods” at U.S. FDA, I contend.

    • flame

      At least Joel D. Joseph is doing something and I appreciate what he’s doing on my behalf and others who feel the same way he and I do. There are other food safety consumers organizations working on the problems you mentioned. One problem at a time. What have you done to make something happen. Like call and/or email your politicians on capitol hill, call/e-mail the big food companies and tell them what you want concerning GMO’s, nano’s, etc, sign petitions, attend a rally, donate some cash to one of the many organizations for food safety and/or food concerns. Take action and stop complaining when someone is at least doing something to help consumers.

    • Joel D. Joseph

      Yes I think GMOs should be labeled. Joel D. Joseph

  • flame

    Good news. Make them pay and comply for not labeling and/or deceptive labeling.

    • Oregon meat processor

      How is this mislabeled?

      • Nebraska Rancher

        By having more than one country on the package. Unless that package was hamburger or small cuts that has all those countries meat in it, therefor mislabeled and miss represented.

        • Luvcoast

          Did you know that ground beef is made out of mostly beef trimmings?. Trimmings are beef by-products after production of other cuts like steaks and therefore having products from more than one country is not unusual in today’s global market. Multiple countries in the label is a valid statement of all the probable sources for that ground beef.

  • Oregon meat processor

    This is the most idiotic lawsuit, EVER.

    I seriously hope I’m a dang moron and misunderstanding this lawsuit.

    Are they REALLY suing because it is properly labeled that the meat is from out of country AND mixed with domestic?

    It is labeled that way, if the consumer does NOT want import then DON’T buy that package. It’s not like they are marking an imported item as domestic!!!

    If I’m missing a main point, please, by all means, enlighten me!!!

    • Nebraska Rancher

      The point is the label on a cut like in the photo, should and can have ONLY ONE country on that label. That package can not have multiple pieces from multiple countries in the same package. To me Trader Joe is making a mockery of COOL labeling by just putting ALL the countries they purchase from, on ALL the packages. Defeats the purpose of COOL.

  • joellen

    This is not just Trader Joe’s practice. I always figure if it says multiple countries of origin I probably don’t want it.

  • Luvcoast

    this guy “helped draft, lobby and achieve the passage of the Federal Country of Origin Labeling Act”,
    that reads “Ground beef… shall include a list of all of the countries of origin
    contained therein or reasonably contained therein”, and then complaint when the
    product is labeled in accordance to his own draft?. Then, uses the name of the “public”
    to seek personal financial gain?. Please, be real.

  • AlterKaker

    My question is, it is hard for American farmers & ranchers to survive, So Why are we importing any meat or produce from outside the country? The government restrictions etc loaded on America agriculture do not apply elsewhere. why not? for example we import beef from several countries Why? It is subjected to same inspection standards as ours? If if is cheaper than ours then there is a tariff import flaw.
    So what happens when the bulk of American farmers –who are in late 60’s to 90s go. ? import more food from China & own them more until the foreclose?

  • Pirate

    This is why you should buy food from your local, small farms where you know or you can visit the farm for yourself and see how their products are grown and raised. When you support your local farmer you do 3 things: get healthier food, help protect the land (environment), and give a living wage to the farmer.

    Small farms = fresh foods = nutrient-dense foods! Support your local farmer! Its easier than ever to do with the abundance of Farmers Markets or CSA’s. Better yet grow your own if you can.

    Big grocers are getting to be just as dangerous as hospitals.