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Rick Palmore, general counsel of cereal-maker General Mills, Inc., got his Kix this week when a class action suit related to labeling on the company’s Fiber One breakfast bar was dismissed. And the case stands as a victory for most food companies as well. Calling it a “very important decision,” Palmore explained that it “provides clarity around what food manufacturers are required to do on consumer product labeling. . . that we are not required to do things inconsistent with federal requirements.” The case began when a consumer sued General Mills and its main rival, Kellogg Company, in federal court in Chicago, claiming that labels on their fiber bars didn’t disclose that the bars contained a form of processed fiber that is inferior to natural fiber. The suit also alleged that the labels didn’t disclose that the bars could cause certain health problems, which the companies denied. The district court dismissed the suit without hearing the merits, but the consumer appealed. On October 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, also in Chicago, dismissed the suit after considering the merits. Ani Gulati, assistant GC and litigation chief at Minneapolis-based General Mills, said the decision was especially significant because “it is the first known federal appellate court decision to interpret the application of pre-emption language” in the federal Nutrition Labeling and Education Act. Judge Richard Posner’s opinion held that the information required under the federal law doesn’t include disclosing that the fiber in the bars produces fewer health benefits than a product that contains only “natural” fiber. And Illinois had never obtained an exemption from the federal law to impose any stricter standard. The three-judge panel also found no evidence supporting allegations of health problems related to eating the bars. “It is easy to see why Congress would not want to allow states to impose disclosure requirements of their own on packaged food products, most of which are sold nationwide,” Posner wrote. “Manufacturers might have to print 50 different labels, driving consumers who buy food products in more than one state crazy.” Outside counsel David Biderman, who represented the company in the case, said the decision set an excellent precedent in making clear that manufacturers can provide nutritional information that will be consistent in all 50 states. “It protects manufacturers from being subject to a patchwork quilt of regulations,” said Biderman, a partner in Perkins Coie’s Los Angeles office. Kellogg, based in Battle Creek, Michigan, was represented by Jenner & Block.

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