Class action against ‘diet’ drink giants in the States

Posted by Nicholas Nakos on 25th October 2017

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Class action lawsuits have been filed in the United States accusing major soft drink manufacturers Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Dr Pepper Snapple of false advertising for labelling some of their drinks as ‘diet’.

At the crux of the lawsuit is the notion that a product labelled ‘diet’ makes consumers think it will help them lose weight.

The class action lawsuits are all represented by the same law firms and make similar arguments.

The plaintiffs are using scientific studies to argue that the use of artificial sweeteners in diet soft drinks may actually cause consumers to gain weight.

The lawsuits all state that, “sweetness- whether from sugar or non-caloric artificial sources, increases appetite, which can lead to weight gain.”

Coca-Cola U.S. has responded to the complaint, labelling it “completely meritless.”

The Dr Pepper Snapple Group told Food Navigator USA that, “we stand by our products and believe these lawsuits to be completely without merit.”

PepsiCo U.S. are yet to comment on the matter.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Code of Federal Regulations permits the use of ‘diet’ in the brand name or label of a soft drink, “only when it is not false or misleading”.

The use of the word ‘diet’ accompanying soda products in the United States faced a challenge not dissimilar to this current class action in 2015.

The consumer group ‘U.S. Right to Know’ made a request to the federal government that the ‘diet’ label be ruled misleading.

The Federal Trade Commission which protects consumers from deceptive or unfair business practices denied the petition. The FDA never acted on it.

What is the Australian law relating to diet claims?

Under Schedule 4 of the Australian Food Standards Code, a diet claim is allowed to be made in relation to energy.

The product must have an energy content of no more than 80 kJ per 100ml to use the word diet.

The Australian Consumer Law also prohibits claims that may mislead or deceive consumers, placing the onus on businesses to ensure that they hold sufficient data to support any diet claim made.

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