A proposed class action filed this week claims General Mills Inc. has failed to disclose to consumers that several of its popular Annie’s macaroni and cheese products contain “dangerous and harmful chemicals” known as phthalates.
According to the case, “ortho-phthalates” (or just “phthalates”) have been linked to myriad health issues, including asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, breast cancer, obesity, type II diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development, and male fertility issues, and are especially dangerous when consumed by pregnant women and children.
The lawsuit alleges General Mills has deceptively represented its Annie’s mac and cheese products as “Certified Organic” or “Made-with-Organic ingredients” while at the same time failing to inform consumers of the presence of harmful phthalates. From the complaint:
Despite Defendant’s knowledge of phthalates in the Products, Defendant failed to provide any warning on the place that every consumer looks when purchasing a product --the packaging or labels--that the Products contain dangerous phthalates.”
Phthalates in Annie’s Mac & Cheese?
While General Mills fails to mention phthalates on the packaging for Annie’s mac and cheese or include it in ingredient lists, public reports and the defendant’s own website reveal that the products do indeed contain phthalates, the lawsuit alleges.
According to the case, the defendant has attempted to “bury this significant information” on the FAQ section of its website, where the following can be found:
Does Annie’s mac and cheese contain phthalates?
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. While the FDA has not yet adopted a threshold for levels of phthalates in food, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published risk assessment data which notes a Total Daily Intake of 0.05 mg/kg of body weight. Our mac and cheese products have been tested and we know any trace of phthalates are below the EFSA standard. We are also reviewing available scientific research on the issue to ensure we are informed about the most current evidence related to phthalates and food. Phthalates are chemicals that are widely used to make plastics more pliable and can be found in anything from farm equipment to conveyor belts and packaging ink. Their presence in the supply chain is a widespread and complex issue that affects products well beyond the food industry. Annie’s remains committed to sourcing high-quality organic ingredients and ensuring our food is handled in the safest way possible. We continue to work with our trusted suppliers to eliminate ortho-phthalates that may be present in the packaging materials and food processing equipment that produces the cheese and cheese powder in our macaroni and cheese. We are also working closely with our industry partners including the Organic Trade Association and The Organic Center to better understand this emerging issue and determine how Annie’s can be part of the solution.”
The lawsuit claims “the recent report” mentioned in the FAQ post refers to one released by nonprofit consumer health and food safety advocacy group Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging, who tested the cheese powder of 10 varieties of mac and cheese.
While acknowledging that the report does not name the brands tested, the lawsuit argues that General Mills has admitted to testing its mac and cheese products and found that “they do contain phthalates.”
The issue, according to the case, is that General Mills has not disclosed the presence of phthalates on “the one place that every consumer looks when purchasing a product—the packaging and labels themselves.” Per the case, while General Mills has failed to include on food labels warnings about the presence of phthalates and associated health risks, “it does find ample space to brag to consumers” about the products’ purportedly organic ingredients and lack of artificial flavors, synthetic colors and preservatives.
The defendant’s marketing and advertising, the suit says, aim to convince parents, caregivers and all consumers that Annie’s mac and cheese is a “healthy and safe food.”
“However, contrary to these representations and pictures, the products contain dangerous and harmful phthalates,” the complaint attests.
The lawsuit, which alleges violations of New York General Business Law and the federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, claims consumers would not have purchased Annie’s mac and cheese products, or would have paid less, had they known the products contain phthalates.
Which Annie’s Mac & Cheese Products Are Named in the Lawsuit?
The lawsuit identifies the following Annie’s products:
Shells & White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Shells & White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Classic Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Classic Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Shells & Real Aged Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Shells & Real Aged Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Macaroni & Cheese Classic Cheddar Cheese with 12g Protein
Gluten Free Rice Pasta & Cheddar Mac
Rice Pasta Shells & White Cheddar
Red Lentil Spirals & White Cheddar
Organic Shells & White Cheddar Mac & Cheese with Whole Grains
Organic Farm Friends & Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Grass Fed Shells & White Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Grass Fed Shells & Real Aged Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Organic Mac & Bees Mac & Cheese
Mac & Trees Mac & Cheese
Quinoa Rice Pasta & White Cheddar
Reduced Sodium Mac & Cheese
Organic Peace Pasta & Parmesan Mac & Cheese
Spirals with Butter & Parmesan
Organic Alfredo Shells & Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Penne & Four Cheese Mac & Cheese
Bunny Pasta with Yummy Cheese Mac & Cheese
Organic Grass Fed Classic Cheddar Mac & Cheese
Who Does the Lawsuit Look to Cover?
The case looks to represent anyone who purchased the above products in the U.S. during the applicable statute of limitations period, as well as a proposed subclass of consumers who purchased the products in New York.
How Do I Join the Lawsuit?
As with most class actions, there is nothing you need to do to join the lawsuit. If the case moves forward and settles, that’s when “class members,” i.e., those who fit the above criteria, would be given an opportunity to claim whatever compensation the court deems appropriate.
In the meantime, you can keep up with class action news and updates by signing up for ClassAction.org’s newsletter here.