Aldi's motion to dismiss lawsuit alleging deceptive sustainability claims denied
U.S. Superior Court for the District of Columbia Judge Heidi Pasichow has rejected a motion to dismiss a lawsuit alleging Aldi had been deceptive in its claims of sustainability for its fresh Atlantic salmon products.
Filed in January 2021, the lawsuit alleges Aldi's use of the phrase "Simple. Sustainable. Seafood." on its Atlantic salmon products “leads consumers to believe that the salmon was farmed in accordance with high environmental and animal welfare standards, but in reality, the salmon are sourced unsustainably,” Toxin Free USA, which is suing Aldi, said in a new press release. GMO/Toxin Free USA is a nonprofit that advocates against the use of GMOs, synthetic pesticides, and other toxins in food products. Its complaint describes the net-pen farms in Chile, the source of some of the salmon sold by Aldi, as using an “ecologically dangerous method” of salmon production in which thousands of fish are crowded into cages or pens.
In denying Aldi's motion to dismiss, Pasichow said Toxin Free USA had sufficiently alleged "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Toxin Free USA provided sufficient information demonstrating that Aldi’s packaging and marketing is misleading and confusing to consumers, and provided documentation that consumers may perceive the word “sustainable” as misleading, according to the court ruling.
”We are pleased to see the court stand up for consumers and reject Aldi's claims that no reasonable consumer would believe its false statements," Toxin Free USA Executive Director Diana Reeves said. "Now we look forward to holding Aldi accountable during the next phase of this legal battle in our ongoing campaign to protect consumers from patently false marketing claims."
Aldi did not respond to SeafoodSouce’s request for comment on the decision.
In the same decision, Pasichow said the Global Seafood Alliance’s claims made in an amicus curae brief “that a reasonable consumer would understand defendant’s sustainability claim on their packaging as a reflection of seafood sourced according to industry best practices,” was not persuasive enough to dismiss the case. GSA had argued Aldi’s claim of sustainability for its salmon product was linked to its Best Aquaculture Practices eco-label.
“Defendant’s emphasis on context and viewing the word ‘sustainable’ together with the BAP certification does not account for the fact that the reasonable consumer might not know the level of reputability of the BAP seal, or even what the BAP represents,” Pasichow wrote.
Toxic Free USA cited Federal Trade Commission guidance that a claim that something is "sustainable” is likely to convey to consumers that the product has “specific and far-reaching environmental benefits and may convey that the item … has no environmental impact,” according to its filing.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for 25 March, 2022.
Toxin Free USA is represented by Richman Law & Policy, which has filed similar deceptive marketing lawsuits against other seafood suppliers and food companies.
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