Described by critics as being made from “vat-grown fungus,” Quorn Foods Inc. products are getting new labels prominently declaring they contain mold.
The new label language is part of a class action settlement agreement between the company and a woman who filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of herself and anyone else in the United States who bought the products from Jan. 26, 2012, through Dec. 14, 2016.
A final hearing on the class action lawsuit before U.S. District Court Judge Dolly M. Gee on Sept. 1 sealed the language for the warning labels and cash reimbursements for consumers who bought the Quorn products.
In her orders, the judge made it clear that the settlement does not pre-empt or prohibit civil cases, pending or to be filed, by people who suffered physical repercussions from eating the Quorn “Chick’n” or “Turk’y” or other meat-free products containing “mycoprotein.”
One such case was filed in 2015 by the parents of an 11-year-old California boy who died June 19, 2013, the morning after he ate a Quorn “Turk’y Burger” his mother prepared for supper. The boy was allergic to mold, but his parents had no idea that Quorn’s trademarked term “mycoprotein” was the corporation’s label shorthand for its website statement: “we take a natural nutritious fungus from the soil and ferment it to produce a dough called Mycoprotein™.”
Now, all Quorn products containing mycoprotein — which makes up more than 50 percent of the ingredients in some of the products — will have to carry the following statement, including the parenthetical material:
“Mycoprotein is a mold (member of the fungi family). There have been rare cases of allergic reactions to products that contain mycoprotein.”
The judge’s order requiring the label language is partly the result of work by the nonprofit watchdog organization the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI.) The center was not a party to the class action lawsuit in federal court, but it did file documents in the case indicating it would fight any settlement that did not include requirements for warning labels.
“CSPI withdrew its objections after Quorn agreed to additional material labeling changes; the court then approved the settlement,” the organization’s leadership said in a news release Wednesday.
“Consumers deserve to know that Quorn comes from mold, which sometimes causes serious gastrointestinal and breathing problems,” CSPI litigation director Maia Kats said in the release. “The labeling improvements we’ve negotiated with Quorn will help consumers understand what ‘mycoprotein’ is and that it sometimes does trigger adverse reactions.”
In terms of class actions in the federal court system, Birbrower v. Quorn Foods Inc. was resolved quickly.
California resident Kimberly Birbrower filed the case in state court in January 2016. Within a month it was moved to federal court. In January this year Birbrower, representing the consumer class, and Quorn reached a settlement agreement. CSPI filed its intent to oppose that agreement in March.
The parties agreed on a revised settlement, including the mandatory warning label, this summer and CSPI terminated its objection Aug. 23.
In addition to changing its labels, Quorn has to pay up to $1.35 million in legal fees incurred by Birbrower. The corporation must also set up “an initial non-refundable settlement fund” of $2.5 million to begin reimbursing consumers for the estimated $120 million they spent on Quorn products.
Following is the settlement language approved by the judge:
“First, the Settlement provides Quorn will now uniformly disclose on its packages that its products contain mold in the Allergy Warning, and the Allergy Warning will be prominently placed at or near the top of the back or side-labels of all Quorn Products.
“Second, Quorn will no longer represent or imply its products are made of ‘mushrooms, truffles or morels.’
“Third, Quorn will provide a full refund to all Class Members who purchased Quorn Products in the U.S. during the Class Period if they have an itemized receipt proving they purchased the product(s). There are no limitations on the aggregate refund amount to the Class, nor are there limitations on the total refund amount for any individual Class Member. So long as they provide itemized receipts showing how much they paid for Quorn Products during the Class Period, the Class Member will receive a full refund for that amount. Based on confirmatory discovery, Plaintiff estimates the Class paid approximately $120,000,000 for Quorn Products during the Class Period.
“Fourth, for those Class Members who do not have itemized receipts, they may receive an alternative remedy of “$5 Per Month” for each month during the Class Period in which they claim to have purchased Quorn Product(s), up to a cap of $40 per year for each year of the five-year Class Period, for a maximum possible refund of $200. To be eligible for this remedy, such Class Members will simply be required to verify under oath they purchased Quorn Products during the months they claim and submit a credit or debit card statement, or a non-itemized receipt, showing they made purchases at a store that sold Quorn Products during those months (the “Alternative Proof of Purchase Documents”). For example, if they have a credit card statement showing they made purchases at a Whole Foods or WalMart during the Class Period (two stores that sold Quorn Products), then such Class Members will receive $5 for each month they claim to have purchased Quorn Products at such stores, up to a cap of $40 per year for each year of the five-year Class Period, for a maximum possible refund of $200. Based on the confirmatory discovery, the average retail price of a Quorn product is between $4.00 and $4.75 and Quorn’s most loyal customers purchase approximately eight (8) products per year for a total of approximately $41. Thus, this alternative “$5 Per Month” remedy will likely provide close to full refunds for most Class Members even with the annual $40 caps.
“Fifth, while the release includes all claims relating to the allegations in this lawsuit, it does not include any claims for personal injuries for those customers who may have suffered adverse reactions from mold allergies after consuming Quorn Products.
“Sixth, the Settlement provides that Quorn will separately pay for all attorneys’ fees and costs, incentive awards and claims administrations costs approved by the Court, and such payments will not in any way reduce the monetary benefits available to the Class.”
The CSPI raised concerns about Quorn’s unique main ingredient in the early 2000s and asked the Food and Drug Administration to remove the products from the marketplace.
Since its initial request to FDA, the CSPI has received approximately 2,500 reports from consumers of adverse reactions to Quorn products. In addition to the California boy, a death in Sweden is attributed to Quorn.
“Some consumers have reported adverse reactions after eating Quorn, including vomiting, diarrhea, and, in rarer cases, life-threatening anaphylactic reactions,” according to CSPI.
The organization had been monitoring the non-meat products since they were introduced in the United Kingdom in 1993. Now owned by Philippines-based Monde Nissin Corp., Quorn was launched by Marlow Foods Ltd.
Labels on the non-meat products in the U.S. and other countries previously provided a bit of linguistics, presented in parentheses, and botany:
“Quorn [insert specific product name here] are made with mycoprotein (“myco” is Greek for “fungi”) and are completely meatless and soy- free. There are believed to be over 600,000 varieties of fungi in the world, many of which are among the most sought after foods like varieties of mushroom, truffles, and morels.”
In the U.S. legal actions against Quorn, consumers said they were misled by the company’s label claims. They said in their complaints that they thought “mycoprotein” was made from “mushrooms, truffles and morels.”
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