A federal lawsuit filed this week alleges that dairy giant Dean Foods violated consumer fraud laws by claiming that its milk does a body good.
The class action complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. It says that the packaging of Dean's Horizon Organic Milk products includes claims that are not supported by science and mislead consumers into purchasing Dean's products.
The Dean Foods suit joins several high-profile cases recently to question health claims made on products ranging from pomegranate juice to toddler formula. Dean Foods could not be reached for immediate comment Tuesday morning.
The specific claim on Horizon's packaging that the lawsuit addresses is one that reads, "DHA Omega-3 Supports Brain Health." DHA is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid typically found in cold water fish, according to the suit, but the DHA in Horizon milk products is not derived from fish oil.
Instead, the suit claims, the DHA oil used in the milk is a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid made from mutated and fermented algae.
"Clinical cause and effect studies have found no causative link between DHA algal oil supplementation and brain health. (Dean's) representations are false, misleading, and reasonably likely to deceive the public," the suit claims.
The products contain 32 milligrams of the oil in each serving of milk.
"DHA algal oil does not support brain health," the suit states, "especially in the relatively small amount found in a servings of (Dean) products."
The suit alleges that such claims lead customers to overpay for the products, which include whole milk, chocolate milk, reduced-fat milk and fat-free milk under the Horizon brand. The plaintiff representing the class paid between $4.75 and $6 for each half-gallon carton of milk, according to the suit.
In a statement, Horizon said it does not discuss pending lawsuits. "We plan to vigorously defend ourselves against the allegations about the labeling and marketing of our Horizon’s DHA Omega-3 enhanced milk products," Horizon said. "We believe that the suit challenging Horizon's label is without merit."