WASHINGTON — Orange juice maker Tropicana markets its brand as fresh from the grove, but a series of lawsuits nationwide claims the company's juice is so heavily processed it shouldn't be called "natural."
In about 20 lawsuits, the first one filed in New Jersey, lawyers claim the company adds chemically engineered "flavor packs" to its juice, making it taste the same year-round. On Thursday, lawyers came together in Washington to argue before a panel of judges about where the lawsuits should be heard as a group.
Tropicana declined to comment but said in a statement that it is committed to full compliance with labeling laws and to producing "great-tasting 100 percent orange juice."
The orange juice lawsuits are just the latest disputes over "all natural" claims. Over the past several years, a number of major national brands have been attacked for what consumers have called deceptive labeling. Tostitos, SunChips, Snapple and Ben & Jerry's ice cream have all faced similar attacks.
The Food and Drug Administration, the agency that oversees packaged food labeling in the United States, has no definition of what counts as "natural." As long as a food labeled "natural" doesn't contain added color, artificial flavor or synthetic substances, the agency doesn't object.
The Tropicana lawsuits are partly the result of a 2009 book about the orange juice industry, Alissa Hamilton's Squeezed: What You Don't Know About Orange Juice. Hamilton, a doctoral student at Yale when she started researching orange juice, spent five years learning about the industry, interviewing Tropicana employees, growers, farmers, and others. Hamilton, who has consulted with one of the firms involved in a Tropicana lawsuit, said she would like to see Tropicana be clearer in its labeling and stop using words such as "fresh," "natural" and "pure."