Understanding a nutrition label can often be like deciphering ancient hieroglyphics. This Note examines the ethical and legal constraints of food nutrition labeling with specific key words such as “all-natural” and “superfood” in the United States. The subject of nutrition in the law is first explored through the 2018 lawsuit Rice v. National Beverage Corp. Many educated, nutritionally informed citizens still do not have a clear grasp of what chemicals and other synthetic ingredients they are consuming when buying popular brands. Large food companies use persuasive marketing to attract consumers, especially through misrepresenting nutritional data. In this case specifically, Lenora Rice sued the National Beverage Corporation for advertising their LaCroix products as “natural” despite the ingredients containing synthetic compounds such as ethyl butanoate, limonene, linalool, and linalool propionate.

Although LaCroix claimed that there are indeed natural, plant-sourced versions of these compounds and that these particular forms are used in their products, the argument was dismissed as “incomplete” by Judge Joan B. Gottschall of the Northern District Court of Illinois. The primary issue here is that there is no legal definition of the word “natural”, nor are there definitions for “all-natural”, “superfood” or “antioxidants”, yet these words are thrown around in nutritional marketing campaigns all the time. Between 2016 and 2019, there were over 300 lawsuits disputing the use of the word “natural” alone. Not only is this misleading for consumers, but there are also both metabolic and nutritional repercussions for these misrepresentations that are explained further in this Note. The ethical component of this issue is presented later through a discussion of related cases that have highlighted this lack of legal clarity throughout the late 20th and early 21st century. The U.S. food labeling policies that are regulated by the FDA are not fully enforced, causing precedent to fall upon other organizations and inconsistent rulings. In short, this is an examination of the implications of vague legal language on the health of U.S. citizens.