The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recently filed a deceptive advertising lawsuit against tea-maker R. C. Bigelow, Inc., in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It claims that Bigelow should be held liable for “deceptive labeling, marketing, and sale of tea products” that they represent as “all natural” or environmentally friendly, because the teas actually contain glyphosate residue, the main herbicide in Roundup weed killer.
Glyphosate’s safety has been a widely debated issue. On July 7, 2017, the California state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) named glyphosate as a chemical that can cause cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, has classified the chemical in Group E, which means evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans. The EPA acknowledges, however, that glyphosate is “currently undergoing registration review, a program that re-evaluates all pesticides on a 15-year cycle.”
OCA Says Bigelow is Engaging in Deceptive Advertising
According to their complaint, tests of Bigelow Green Tea conducted by an independent laboratory revealed glyphosate at 0.38 parts per million (ppm). Even while, though glyphosate’s technical factsheet states that chronic long-term exposure can cause kidney damage and reproductive problems, EPA standards allows 1 ppm for dried tea.
Despite the low levels found in Bigelow Green Tea, the OCA alleges that Bigelow’s products labels and social media pages contain the words “natural” and “all natural”. The company also claims that it is committed to “sustainability” and “protecting the environment.” The OCA asserts that Bigelow’s claims are false and misleading based on the test results showing glyphosate residues in the tea.
According to the Complaint “[n]o reasonable consumer who sees these representations, would expect that the tea or any ingredients in the products contain something that is unnatural.” Indeed, in 2015, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey to see what consumers thought about food labels, which found that 63 percent of respondents believed that listing “natural” on a product label meant that “no toxic pesticides were used.”