An Eastern District of New York class-action complaint filed on Thursday against General Mills Inc. claimed that the company’s various Mac and Cheese products sold under the name Annie’s contain “ortho-phthalates,” or phthalates, which can cause harm to health when consumed by children or pregnant women. The fraud-based lawsuit alleged that the defendant breaches consumer laws by not disclosing the presence of the chemicals on its product packaging.
Shelby Franklin, the plaintiff, reported that various cheese products produced by General Mill’s are sold under marketing designed to appeal to “health-conscious consumers” and contain the chemical, which has been linked to “asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity and type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues.”
To support its claims of fraud and misrepresentation, the plaintiff cited the “cute bunny” used as a mascot, advertising phrases like “Bunny of Approval” and “Made with Goodness!”, and claims that the product is made with organic ingredients or does not contain artificial flavors. Franklin claimed that these marketing tactics give consumers the belief that General Mills’ products are healthier than other options, when in reality they are contaminated with phthalates. Moreover, she claimed that consumers paid more for the products because they believed they were healthier, and that General Mills has benefited from its purportedly deceptive practices.
According to the plaintiff, public reports and articles, including some on General Mills’ website, show that the products contain phthalates, however, the company did not place a warning on its product. Further, she explained that consumers are not able to “test or independently ascertain or verify” whether a product contains the purportedly harmful chemical, so they must rely on a business like the defendant to accurately represent its product.
The complaint cited the defendant’s website, which said that its own tests revealed its macaroni and cheese products contain phthalates, and explained that they can come from chemicals used in conveyor belts, packaging ink, and farm equipment. General Mills said in its answer to a frequently asked question about the chemical, “food integrity and consumer trust are our top priorities at Annie’s. We are troubled by the recent report of phthalates found in dairy ingredients of macaroni and cheese and take this issue seriously.”
The complaint purported that the defendant’s “representations are false, deceptive, and willfully malicious.” It accused General Mills of breaching New York General Business Law and the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, along with various warranties.
Franklin is seeking to certify a class of anyone who purchased the accused products in the United States, and a subclass of individuals who purchased them in New York. She also asked the court to award punitive damages and statutory damages of $550 per transaction under New York law, as well as court costs and expenses.