Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms
In this consumer class action, the plaintiffs alleged that Herb Thyme Farms, Inc. deliberately mixed organic herbs with non-organic herbs and sold them to the public as “100% organic.” Herb Thyme argued that the consumers’ state law claims were preempted by federal law governing certification of organic products.
Herb Thyme Farms had one small farm which is certified as an organic farm. (While the federal and state regulations are somewhat complex, suffice it to say for these purposes that this little farm was considered organic under both California and federal law.) Then, Herb Thyme also has a number of very large farms which are conventional, which is to say not organic. Herb Thyme took the herbs grown at its organic farm and mixed them together in buckets with herbs grown at its conventional farms. It then sold these as “100% organic.” So while some small proportion of the herbs in any given consumer’s purchase will have been organic, under no circumstance would someone think that a few organic items mixed in with a ton of 100% NON organic items was “100% organic.”
On December 3, 2015, the California Supreme Court issued the first appellate decision in the country to reject federal preemption under the Organic Food Production Act, allowing a class action to continue to press the rights of consumers who were tricked into paying organic premiums for conventional products. In a rare unanimous decision, the high court held that consumer protection lawsuits seeking to hold organic growers liable under state law for lying about the contents of their products were not prohibited by federal law. Read more about the landmark ruling here.