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Class Action Suit Claims Starbucks Failed to Disclose Food Dyed With Bugs

On May 25, 2012, a class action lawsuit was filed against Starbucks Corp. for failing to disclose that some of its products were made with cochineal extract, a common food-coloring ingredient. Anderson v. Starbucks Corp., No. BC485438 (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles County, filed May 25, 2012). The suit claims that Starbucks had been selling food and drinks dyed red with an extract from pulverized beetle carcasses without disclosing it as required.

On May 25, 2012, a class action lawsuit was filed against Starbucks Corp. for failing to disclose that some of its products were made with cochineal extract, a common food-coloring ingredient. Anderson v. Starbucks Corp., No. BC485438 (Cal. Super. Ct., Los Angeles County, filed May 25, 2012). The suit claims that Starbucks had been selling food and drinks dyed red with an extract from pulverized beetle carcasses without disclosing it as required. Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, restitutional and equitable relief, corrective advertising, an apology, costs and expenses, and attorneys' fees.

In the lawsuit, plaintiff alleges that she and other class members were misled to purchase red-colored food and drink products from Starbucks stores, including Starbucks' "Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino" blended beverages, strawberry banana smoothies, raspberry swirl cakes, "Birthday Cake Pop", mini donuts with pink icing and "Red Velvet Whoopie Pie". Plaintiffs claim that the fact that crushed beetle carcasses were used as an ingredient in its food and drinks was not posted in Starbucks stores, disclosed on product containers or on receipts, announced by staff, or identified online. The suit notes that Starbucks even bragged that it did not need to use beets for red coloring in its food and drink products, stating in a description for its Red Velvet Whoopie Pie that "[w]hile foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beets to enhance the color of their cakes. Boiled grated beets or beet baby food are found in some red velvet cake recipes (but not ours!)."

Consumers discovered Starbucks' use of cochineal extract in its products after a Starbucks employee reported to a vegan/vegetarian website that the Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino blended beverage was not vegan friendly because the strawberry sauce included cochineal extract. Only after the ensuing media frenzy and consumer outcry, particularly from vegan and consumer advocate groups, did Starbucks admit to using the ingredient. Starbucks has since issued a statement that it will cease using cochineal extract in its products and use lycopene, a tomato extract, instead.

The Food and Drug Administration requires companies to identify cochineal extract and carmine as ingredients on the labels of all food and cosmetic products intended for human use because it can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. To avoid liability, companies that sell food and cosmetic products should keep current with the FDA's ingredient regulations. Such companies should also be open about the ingredients they use for fear of alienating a particular consumer base. Plaintiffs accuse Starbucks of deceptively and unfairly omitting and failing to disclose the fact that its products contained cochineal extract. Plaintiffs want Starbucks held liable for violating the California Unfair Business Practices Act and False Advertising Act, unjust enrichment, fraud, and violating California's Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

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