Millennium Products, Inc., the maker of GT’s Kombucha and Synergy drinks, improperly labels its products in violation of the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act because the antioxidant statements it makes are misleading and unauthorized nutrient content claims as proscribed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Those allegations are the heart of a lawsuit filed on March 11 in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, in which plaintiffs Jonathan Retta, Kirsten Schofield, and Jessica Manire claim that they would not have purchased GT’s beverages had they known that the statements were unauthorized by the FDA.
“Millennium has plastered misleading antioxidant messaging on every side of its GT’s Kombucha and Synergy (collectively, ‘GT’s Kombucha Beverages’ ) beverage labels,” the complaint reads. “The simple truth is, however, that GT’s Kombucha Beverages do not have even a single nutrient that the FDA recognizes and approves of for labeling statements using the term ‘antioxidant.’”
The filing provides specific FDA wording on use of the term “antioxidants” for product labels, pointing to the agency’s assessment that “the term ‘antioxidants’ is unique in comparison to the names of other nutrients associated with nutrient content claims.”
“Unlike previously approved nutrient content claims that characterize the level of a particular nutrient (e.g., ‘low sodium’), a term such as ‘high in antioxidants’ ties a claim (i.e., ‘high’) to a class of nutrients that share a specific characteristic (i.e., they are antioxidants) whose very name indicates a metabolic function,” according to the FDA.
The lawsuit specifically takes aim at GT’s use of “antioxidants and organic acids” section of its label, which lists “EGCG (a polyphenol found in tea) 100mg.” However, the plaintiffs write that because GT’s Kombucha Beverages are a type of tea, and “the FDA considers tea a food of no nutritional significance,” the drinks do not contain “even a single antioxidant nutrient with an established RDI (Reference Daily Intake).”
Thus, the plaintiffs allege “the statement that GT’s Kombucha Beverages provide a ‘unique blend’ of ‘powerful antioxidants’ misleadingly suggests that the beverages provide superior antioxidant content than foods and beverages with antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C that have antioxidant properties as well as nutritional value.”
The lawsuit claims that Millennium is “taking advantage of high consumer demand for antioxidants by touting the antioxidant content in its Kombucha beverages in precisely the manner the FDA sought to prohibit.”
Moreover, the plaintiffs state that use of the term “antioxidant” as it refers to a product’s nutrients is restricted by federal and state statutes unless:
- An RDI has been established for each of the nutrients.
- The nutrients that are the subject of the claim have recognized antioxidant activity.
- The level of each nutrient that is the subject of the claim is sufficient to qualify for the [type of claim made].
- The names of the nutrients that are the subject of the claim are included as part of the claim (e.g., ‘high in antioxidant vitamins C and E’).
The lawsuit cites several warning letters that the FDA has sent in recent years to green tea marketers, including Unilever, Inc (maker of Lipton teas) and Dr Pepper Snapple Group in which the agency asserts that certain products were misbranded because they were improperly labeled with the term “antioxidants.”
In a recent article published by FoodNavigator-USA, Millennium called the lawsuit “meritless,” and vowed to vigorously defend itself.