Consumer Lawsuit Challenges Coconut Oil Maker’s “Healthy” Label Claims

A proposed class action filed by a California woman claims that a coconut oil maker deceives consumers with “healthy” label claims.

The lawsuit alleges that labeling on Carrington Tea Co. LLC’s Carrington Farms extra virgin coconut oil and coconut cooking oil violate U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines, California’s False Advertising Law, Unfair Competition Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

The lawsuit alleges that Carrington Farms misleads consumers into thinking the product is good for them when it is made up almost entirely of saturated fat, Law360 reports.
The legal complaint says, “Carrington is well aware of consumer preference for healthful foods, and therefore employs, and has employed, a strategic marketing campaign intended to convince consumers that the Carrington Farms coconut oil products are healthy, despite that they are almost entirely composed of unhealthy saturated fat,” Law360 reports.

In its marketing, Carrington claims its coconut oil is better for health than butter or other cooking oils when in fact the opposite is true, the legal complaint alleges. Government agencies recommend that consumers replace coconut and palm oils with oils that are lower in saturated fat, for example, soy and canola oils. The legal document cites studies that show coconut oil increases the risk of heart disease and contributes to other health issues, according to Law360.

According to Carrington Farms coconut oil labels, nutritionists describe the oil as “the healthiest oil on earth” and also call it “the perfect choice for your health and energy.” The oils in fact contain 14 grams of fat and 12 grams of saturated fat per 14 gram serving. Under FDA rules, a food company may not use the term “healthy” unless a food meets certain criteria, Law360 reports. The Carrington Farms’ labels also violate FDA regulations by making “nutrient content claims” about the levels of trans fat and fatty acids in the product.

When a food that is consumed in small amounts makes health claims, and yet also contains more than 13 grams of fat or 4 grams of saturated fat per 50 gram serving, the FDA requires the label to direct consumers to the fat content on the nutrition information panel. The Carrington Farms coconut oil labels fail to do this, the lawsuit claims.

The woman who filed the suit seeks to represent the class of California residents who bought the coconut oil. She is asking for a recall of the oils, corrective advertising, and a return of the company’s profits from sale of the oils.

But an attorney who has worked with companies facing class action suits cautions about the  dangers of this type of lawsuit reaching court. If the plaintiff argues that coconut oil is a dangerous product, the court will have to address the dietary science surrounding the claim. The attorney is concerned about allowing a jury “to determine for the rest of the scientific community whether this fat is unhealthy,” according to Law360.