ConAgra Must Disclose Sunflower Seed Shell Salt Content

The staple of baseball dugouts, the joy of vegetarians, the sunflower seed had its day in federal appeals court Thursday, in which a split panel said package labels must disclose the salt content on the husks of the sunflower seeds.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated a consumer class action based on California state law that alleged companies must disclose the salt content of shells, even though people generally spit them out.

Although Judge Barry Silverman wrote that some days the court takes up issues of live and death, human rights or complex civil problems, today “we consider the coating on sunflower seeds.”

The plaintiffs sought to undo dismissal of their case, arguing that tasty coating placed on sunflower seed shells is intended to be ingested and is ingested before the shell is spat out and the kernel eaten.  Thus, they argue, the sodium content in a serving of the shell coating should be stated on the package.

“We hold today that the sodium content of the edible coating added to sunflower seed shells must, under federal law, be included in the nutritional information disclosed on a package of sunflower seeds,” Silverman wrote.

ConAgra Foods Inc., which sells several varieties of sunflower seeds, was sued to force it to put the sodium content on the labels.

Aleta Lilly, suing for the class, filed claims under California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Laws and Unfair Competition Laaw.

ConAgra won dismissal arguing federal law expressly preempts the state law claims that would impose food labeling requirements different from those required federally.

Silverman said the state law claims, if successful, “would impose no greater burden than those imposed by federal law.”

He was joined by Judge Andrew Hurwitz.

In dissent, Judge Roger Vinson, visiting judge from the Northern District of Florida, said sunflower seed shells are inedible.  “Thus, it seems apparent to me that the District Court correctly concluded that Lilly’s attempt to require ConAgra to use different labeling in California is expressly preempted by the NLEA, and ConAgra has fully complied with the application FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulation.”

Case: Lilly v. ConAgra Foods Inc., No. 12-55921

 

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