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.
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