Labeling and Marketing

On May 26, 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Warning Letters to four companies[1] concerning the illegal sale of unapproved animal drugs containing cannabidiol (CBD) intended for use in food-producing animals. These Warning Letters demonstrate the first time the FDA chose to focus on marketing CBD-containing products for use in food-producing animals, as opposed to pets, and the specific concerns related to such use. Food-producing animals, as defined by the FDA, include cattle (veal calves, beef cattle, and dairy cattle), swine, chickens, turkeys, and others (such as lambs).

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) completed guidance to help companies remove violative products from the market in a swift and effective manner. The guidance describes the precautionary steps companies should take to develop recall policies and procedures that include training, planning, and recordkeeping to reduce the amount of time a recalled product is exposed to the public.

Recently, President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act. The law adds sesame to the list of major allergens, requiring its disclosure on food labels as an allergen.  Food manufacturers have until January 1, 2023 to add sesame allergen statements to their labels.

Current food labeling regulation allows sesame to be declared as a “natural flavor” or “natural spice.”  This creates uncertainty for consumers allergic to sesame when they review product labels at their local grocery stores.

Last summer the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed to amend Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, to create an exception from the warning requirement for listed chemicals that are formed when food is cooked or heat processed. In essence the proposed rule would treat food products that contain acrylamide as a result of cooking or heating as “naturally occurring” thereby relieving manufacturers of the duty to warn consumers about the presence of acrylamide as long as the levels present are below the OEHHA proposed thresholds.

Recently, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) proposed to amend the Proposition 65 regulations related to short form warnings. Proposition 65, also known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, requires businesses to provide “clear and reasonable” warnings before knowingly and intentionally exposing Californians to listed chemicals. These warnings are required to appear on a wide range of products, including foods.

A recent decision of the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) highlights the overlap between trademark law and food regulatory law as well as the United States’ and Europe’s different approaches to Geographic Indications (“GIs”).  GIs identify the particular location where an agricultural product (such as cheese, wine, or spirits) originates.

Interprofession du Gruyère, a Swiss association, and Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Gruyère, a French association, jointly filed a U.S. trademark application at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) on September 17, 2015 to register the term GRUYERE as a certification mark for cheese.  The Swiss association already owned Registration Number 4,398,395 for the certification mark LE GRUYERE SWITZERLAND AOC and Design.  In the new application, the French and Swiss associations sought to register the term GRUYERE as a word mark, meaning that they made no claim to a particular stylization or design.  In effect, if the USPTO granted registration of the French and Swiss associations’ application, the associations could prevent others in the U.S. from using the term “gruyere” on cheese made outside of the Gruyere region of Switzerland and France.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council and several other entities filed to oppose the associations’ application on the basis that the term “gruyere” is generic for a style of cheese in the U.S.  (In full disclosure, Emily was employed during part of this proceeding at the International Dairy Foods Association, another opposer in the case, and assisted it in this proceeding before joining Husch Blackwell.)  Most of the other entities ultimately withdrew their oppositions or the TTAB dismissed their claims.