Case against Kellogg’s trans-fat cookies crumbles

The case against Kellogg's trans fat-containing cookies has been dismissed by a US judge as preempted by federal law. Pic: ©iStock/urfinguss

‘Frivolous’ is how a California federal judge described a proposed class action targeting the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in Kellogg’s cookies.

The case, Shavonda Hawkins v. Kellogg Co., was dismissed by US district judge John Houston, as it was also recorded to have been preempted by federal law.

Hawkins’ suit claimed Kellogg has violated both California’s Unfair Competition Law and the US Food Drug and Cosmetic Act by using the purportedly toxic food additive in its cookies to boost profits rather than a safer alternative.

Jumping the gun

Judge Houston ruled that the current use of PHOs in food products does not violate federal law as manufacturers have been given a deadline of June 2018 to remove it from their foods.

In June 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that partially hydrogenated oil was no longer deemed safe to include in foods.

Evidence was found that links PHOs and the artificial trans fats they contain to coronary heart disease.

The FDA ruled that food companies must remove the PHOs from their foods, giving them a three-year transitionary period to find substitutes to minimize market disruptions.

The plaintiff also alleged she faces a higher risk of developing several serious diseases from eating Kellogg’s Mother Cookies, which contain partially hydrogenated oil.

The firing line

The suit against Kellogg is yet another in a long line of proposed class actions aimed at food manufacturers, including Nestlé and General Mills, over the use of PHOs.

It is also not the first time that Hawkins has sued a company for using PHOs, supposedly to boost profits, rather than a suitable alternative. In 2015, she launched a similar suit against AdvancePierre Foods over its use of PHOs in its microwaveable Fast Bites sandwiches.

When approached by BakeryAndSnacks, Kellogg responded that, as a matter of policy, it does not comment on litigation.

In 2016, US president Barak Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Action, which, said Judge Houston, is also meant to prevent trivial lawsuits.

“The court finds that plaintiff’s current action is one of the ‘frivolous’ suits that congress meant to preclude until 2018,” he ruled.

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