SW Legal studies in Business

Unless Forbidden by Congress, States May Enforce Federal Rules Via State Law Process

California high court held that consumers had the right to pursue possible remedies against sellers of farm raised salmon accused of not disclosing color additive use. Since California is adopting FDA rules, there is no conflict with federal law, and the state may enforce federal standards.


Consumer Protection

Key Words

Disclosure; Pre-emption; FDA; Food Coloring

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Various parties sued grocery stores in California, alleging the stores sold artificially-colored farm-raised salmon without disclosing to consumers the use of color additives. Plaintiffs contend the coloring may be harmful to health and that consumers are being deceived in violation of the state’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act and other statutes. Defendants contended that state law about food coloring was pre-empted by FDA regulation of such matters. The trial court agreed and dismissed the suit. The appeals court affirmed. Plaintiffs appealed to California’s high court.


Reversed and remanded. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act prohibits states from adopting food labeling requirements in conflict with FDA regulations, but states may, by implication, adopt rules identical to those of the FDA. Congress may prohibit state enforcement of federal rules, but did not in this instance. Through state law, California enforces FDA food labeling rules. Such state enforcement, of rules that are the same as federal rules, does not conflict with federal law and is within the police power of the state. Hence, consumers in California can sue for violation of the food coloring rules by bringing suit under state law rather than under federal law.


In re Farm Raised Salmon Cases, 175 P.3d 1170 (Sup. Ct., Calif., 2008)

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