New York federal judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled last week that a lawsuit against Kangadis Food, Inc. can continue despite the company’s efforts to have it tossed. The suit was filed by consumers who allege that the company’s “100 percent pure” imported oil include olive-residue – residue, the lawsuit claims, that dilutes the olive oil and renders the company’s purity claims false.
[Capatriti olive oil] is tasteless, is made from the seed and skin rather than the flesh of the olive, and undergoes a chemical treatment with solvents.
Judge Rakoff’s decision came after Kangadis moved for summary judgment, arguing that under the law olive-residue is no different than olive oil. Kangadis also claimed that plaintiffs had failed to show any actual damages and should have alerted the company to a breach of warranty before taking legal action. In his ruling, Judge Rakoff made no comment on what really makes up olive oil, though he did point to the UN’s International Olive Council– “the only intergovernmental organisation in the world to bring together olive oil and table olive producing and consuming stakeholders” – and their view that products containing pomace should not be labeled as olive oil. While New York has similar laws, New Jersey currently doesn’t have any regulations regarding olive oil. However, Olive Oil Sourcesays New Jersey is “actively working on similar laws,” so that’s good.
In the end, the lawsuit was approved on the basis that consumers met the requirements to sue for mislabeling and breach of warranty claims. Judge Rakoff also pointed out that New Jersey law doesn’t require consumers to warn companies before suing for breach of warranty. Class certification was approved back in December after certain state law claims were struck down by the judge.
So, when is olive oil not olive oil? It’s hardly one of life’s big questions, though consumers do have a right to expect that what they’re buying matches the label. In this case, plaintiffs allege that Kangadis’ olive oil (sold under the Capatriti brand) includes olive pits, skins and pulp (collectively known as residue or pomace) and, as such, includes more trans-fats than true virgin olive oil.
“[Capatriti olive oil] is tasteless, is made from the seed and skin rather than the flesh of the olive, and undergoes a chemical treatment with solvents, rather than a purely mechanical extraction process,” the order said.
They certainly aren’t mincing their words.
Interestingly (if you’re into olive oil, at least), this isn’t the first lawsuit Kangadis has faced. In May 2001, Olive Oil Times (yes, there’s an Olive Oil Times) reported that Kangadis had been ordered to recall or relabel Capatriti products after a lawsuit filed by the North American Olive Oil Association accused the company of “unlawful, misleading and deceptive misbranding.” According to the report, Judge Rakoff gave the company a choice to either “recall its ‘100% Pure Olive Oil’ products, or apply stickers to every tin notifying customers that what’s inside is not really olive oil at all.”
There’s a surprising amount of olive-based interest groups around, it turns out, and companies that fail to accurately label their products could be asking for trouble.
The current lawsuit is Ebin et al. v. Kangadis Food Inc. d/b/a The Gourmet Factory and is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.