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The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) recently filed a deceptive advertising lawsuit against tea-maker R. C. Bigelow, Inc., in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It claims that Bigelow should be held liable for “deceptive labeling, marketing, and sale of tea products” that they represent as “all natural” or environmentally friendly, because the teas actually contain glyphosate residue, the main herbicide in Roundup weed killer.

Glyphosate’s safety has been a widely debated issue. On July 7, 2017, the California state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) named glyphosate as a chemical that can cause cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), however, has classified the chemical in Group E, which means evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans. The EPA acknowledges, however, that glyphosate is “currently undergoing registration review, a program that re-evaluates all pesticides on a 15-year cycle.”

OCA Says Bigelow is Engaging in Deceptive Advertising

According to their complaint, tests of Bigelow Green Tea conducted by an independent laboratory revealed glyphosate at 0.38 parts per million (ppm). Even while, though glyphosate’s technical factsheet states that chronic long-term exposure can cause kidney damage and reproductive problems, EPA standards allows 1 ppm for dried tea.

Despite the low levels found in Bigelow Green Tea, the OCA alleges that Bigelow’s products labels and social media pages contain the words “natural” and “all natural”. The company also claims that it is committed to “sustainability” and “protecting the environment.” The OCA asserts that Bigelow’s claims are false and misleading based on the test results showing glyphosate residues in the tea.

According to the Complaint “[n]o reasonable consumer who sees these representations, would expect that the tea or any ingredients in the products contain something that is unnatural.” Indeed, in 2015, the Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a survey to see what consumers thought about food labels, which found that 63 percent of respondents believed that listing “natural” on a product label meant that “no toxic pesticides were used.”

The OCA also claims that Bigelow is deceiving consumers about the nature and quality of its products by failing to disclose that glyphosate is contained in them. In the lawsuit, the OAC seeks to halt Bigelow’s false marketing and sale of its teas.

Roundup Lawsuits Consolidated in California

In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) stated that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A number of studies have also suggested that long-term exposure to the herbicide may increase risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) and other similar types of cancer. Since then, hundreds of Roundup cases have been filed against Monsanto alleging that use of the weed killer caused the plaintiffs’ NHL.

In October 2016, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) consolidated all federally filed Roundup lawsuits alleging that the product caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) into the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for pre-trial proceedings.

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