ConAgra Must Defend Sunflower Seed Lawsuit

<p>In the proposed class action lawsuit that an appeals court has revised, the plaintiff alleged ConAgra's nutrition facts label failed to disclose the sodium content on the shells of sunflower seeds.</p>

SAN FRANCISCOA lawsuit alleging ConAgra Foods, Inc. failed to disclose all the sodium content in its sunflower seeds is not preempted by federal law, an appeals court held last week.

The Feb. 20 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit revives a proposed class action lawsuit, which a federal judge previously dismissed.

ConAgra's nutrition facts label failed to disclose the sodium content on the shells of sunflower seeds, plaintiff alleged, quoting directions on the packaging that advise consumers to "crack the shell with your teeth, eat the seed and split the shell."  

In the lawsuit, ConAgra countered that such a labeling practice would run counter to federal law (Nutrition Labeling and Education Act), which only requires that the sodium listed includes a food's "edible portion."

"But ConAgra's argument simply ignores the fact that while the shells themselves are inedible, the coatings put on top of the shells most certainly are not inedible," 9th Circuit Judge Barry Silverman wrote. "To the contrary, the coatings impart flavor and are indisputably intended to be ingested as part of the sunflower seed eating experience."

ConAgra also argued that dismissal of the lawsuit was appropriate because the labeling referencing only the kernels would not deceive a reasonable consumer. The 9th Circuit indicated the issue was a factual question and therefore not an appropriate one for it to address.

The lawsuit is Aleta Lilly v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., 2:2012-cv-00225, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.  

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