In California, a federal judge approved a class certification motion in a suit against ConAgra Food Inc. for alleged mislabeling of its Wesson oil products.  The dispute is based on allegations that ConAgra mislabeled oil as “100% natural.”  Plaintiffs argue the oil is not natural because it contains genetically modified ingredients. Further up the coast in Oregon, voters will decide this fall whether to require genetically modified food sold in the state to be labeled as such.  This issue has come up in several states, including Washington and California, where voters have rejected similar proposals in recent years.

The California case, In re: Conagra Foods Inc., includes certified classes of consumers from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, and Texas.  U.S. District Judge Margaret M. Morrow will allow plaintiffs to pursue claims brought under the states’ various consumer protection statutes, but she will not allow an injunctive relief class to proceed.

ConAgra argued that plaintiffs lacked standing because they continued to purchase the cooking oils after filing the lawsuit.  Judge Morrow noted that although their continued purchase “seriously undercut” their claims, it did not deprive plaintiffs of standing.

In Oregon, a bill was introduced in the state’s legislature last week which will allow Oregon voters to decide this fall whether or not to require labels on genetically modified food sold in the state.  Former Governor John Kitzhaber convened a task force which spent six months compiling a report which lays out the issues surrounding GMOs in Oregon.  However, Governor Kitzhaber resigned in mid-February after the state attorney general opened an investigation into Kitzhaber’s fiancée’s work on state business.  It is now uncertain whether the focus on GMO related issues will continue.

[T]heir continued purchase “seriously undercut” their claims . . .

It is not clear whether new Governor Kate Brown is as interested as her predecessor in pursuing the work regarding GMOs and the conflicts they present within the state.  Governor Brown may need to decide quickly where she stands on these issues because five separate bills dealing with genetically engineered food and crops have been introduced in the Oregon Legislature recently.

  • HB 3121 would require labeling of genetically engineered raw commodities and processed food in Oregon. This requirement would be subject to a public vote in November and if passed would take effect in January 2018.
  • SB 207 was filed at the request of Governor Kitzhaber and would authorize the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish control areas for GMO plants and other plants to avoid conflicts among growers.
  • HB 2674 is very similar to SB 207 but it would require rather than authorize the Oregon Department of Agriculture to establish control areas.
  • HB 3122 would prohibit farming or cultivation of genetically engineered fish that could come into contact with native anadromous fish.
  • HB 2675 would require retailers, dealers and wholesalers to provide the Oregon Department of Agriculture with copies of all royalty agreements signed by purchasers of GMO seeds.