The Oreo Case

Here we respond to the most frequently asked questions
about the lawsuit that we filed against Kraft Foods in May 2003



Why did you only sue Kraft regarding the Oreo?
We couldn't sue everybody. It was sufficient to establish the point using the Oreo. Once we received a ruling from the court, or Kraft agreed to reduce or eliminate the trans fat in the Oreo, there would be a "domino" effect with respect to other manufacturers and products.

Can't adults make their own intelligent choices about what to eat?
Sure. But can children? Our lawsuit was not about adults. Our lawsuit only concerned children under the age of ten. Can a six-year old make an intelligent choice about what to eat? Try telling a six-year old about trans fat. Some may say it's up to the parents to decide. Fine, but what if the parents don't know about trans fat? (Yes, they know about saturated fat because it's on the Nutrition Facts label, but trans fat isn't.) And what about direct in-school marketing by food manufacturers which completely bypasses parental control? For example, there is an annual “Oreo Online Project” in which over 326 schools participate. Over 12,000 students were involved in 2002 in California and 43 other states, and foreign countries. We complained about the Oreo Online Project in our lawsuit.

Weren't you suing just because Oreos make you fat?
Absolutely not. Obesity was not even mentioned in the lawsuit! Trans fats are dangerous regardless of obesity.

How much money did you ask for in the lawsuit?
Zero dollars and zero cents. We simply asked for an injunction ordering Kraft "after the expiration of a reasonable grace period to cease and desist from marketing and selling Oreo Cookies to children in the State of California, until such cookies contain no partially hydrogenated oil or other trans fat."

Was the lawsuit merely a publicity stunt?
No. We filed it to win it. Period.

Why did you dismiss the lawsuit?

Two reasons.

, we had won! Just one day after the media coverage about the lawsuit began, Kraft announced that it would reduce or eliminate the trans fat in the Oreo. There is no point in continuing with a lawsuit when your opponent has agreed to do exactly what you are asking. (See Kraft's progress statement on the home page of this website.)

Incidentally, our lawsuit was about marketing to children, including in schools. After we dismissed the lawsuit, Kraft agreed to stop all in-school marketing.

, in suing Kraft, we relied on California Civil Code Section 1714.45 which provides that a manufacturer or seller is subject to product liability for “a common consumer product intended for personal consumption” if the product is not “known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer who consumes the product with the ordinary knowledge common to the community.” As of the time we filed the lawsuit on May 1, 2003, trans fats were not known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer who consumed the product with the ordinary knowledge common to the community. However, after the incredible national and international publicity that the lawsuit received and the resulting media coverage about trans fats, we could no longer honestly tell a judge that trans fats were not known to be unsafe by the ordinary consumer. The lawsuit was a victim of its own success.

Is Kraft abiding by its agreement?
Yes. On December 20, 2005, Kraft issued the following press release:

NORTHFIELD, IL, December 20, 2005 - Kraft Foods Inc. (NYSE:KFT), a global leader in branded foods and beverages, announced today that it has successfully completed its multi-year, voluntary trans fat reduction efforts in the U.S. In addition, the company said that it will meet the January 1, 2006 U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) deadline for on-pack trans fat labeling. The new FDA rule does not require companies to reduce trans fat content. Kraft took the added steps of reducing or removing trans fat from its products, while making sure they retain their great taste. With nearly every reformulated product, not only did the company reduce trans fat content, but it also ensured that the combination of saturated fat plus trans fat did not increase compared to the original formulation.

With more than 100,000 people-hours invested by Kraft’s research and development teams alone, the extensive and complex project resulted in the reformulation of a significant number of Kraft’s U.S. products.

"As part of Kraft’s broader health and wellness initiatives, we’re continually working on ways to enhance the nutritional profiles of our products," noted Lance Friedmann, Senior Vice President, Global Health & Wellness and New Category Development. "With trans fat reformulation efforts, we’ve responded to consumers’ concerns, while also delivering on their quality and taste expectations. A great example of having met this goal is our Triscuit cracker line; we’ve seen double-digit growth on Triscuit sales since its reformulation."

The broad, multi-disciplinary effort involved Kraft’s Global Technology & Quality, Operations and Marketing teams. 

"Reformulating a single product can be challenging on its own," said Jean Spence, Executive Vice President, Global Technology & Quality. "With this initiative, we were reformulating across our entire U.S. portfolio, with roughly 650 products needing new formulas or manufacturing solutions, or both.  In some cases, we even had to develop proprietary blends of oils to help meet our goal of ensuring that the combined level of saturated fat plus trans fat did not increase as a result of the reformulation."

As a result, seven Kraft categories undertook significant reformulation efforts across their product lines, including: Cereal, Cookies, Crackers, Pizza, Desserts, Meals, and Oscar Mayer. Brands such as Kraft Easy Mac, DiGiorno Thin Crispy Crust Pizza, original Oreo cookies, Wheat Thins crackers, and Jell-O Pudding Snacks will now be labeled as containing 0g trans fat per serving.

With the completion of the reformulation efforts, fewer than 2.5% of the products in Kraft’s portfolio covered by the FDA rule will be required to bear labels declaring the presence of trans fat. These include products where trans fat is naturally occurring, such as cheeses, products containing meats or cheeses (e.g. pizza, lunch combinations), and products where reformulation efforts would have negatively altered the taste and quality of the product.

Kraft’s approach to trans fat reformulation is global, with significant efforts under way in markets around the world.

How do the new trans fat-free oreos taste?
Here's an extract from an article in the Washington Post:

The defending champion: Oreos with trans fats. The challenger: new Oreos without trans fats.

Our tasters found virtually no difference between the two. They praised the original for its good balance between the cream filling and the cookie, its attractive smell and its familiar taste. Trying the new trans-fat-free version, they sensed only slight differences – a hint more salt and a slightly greater emphasis on the cream – but found the cookies equal in sweetness, with similar mouth-feel to the filling.

"I think you could pass both of them off as the same," said pastry chef Steve Klc of Zaytinya in Washington.

Before the trans-fat rule, the amount of trans fat in a processed food could be the entire amount of unidentified fat – in this case, 5.5 grams. According to the FDA rule that took effect Jan. 1, food manufacturers now may claim "zero trans fats" on a nutritional label as long as there is no more than 0.5 gram of fat in the serving size.

Oreos with trans fats: Serving size is three cookies, 160 calories, 7 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 5.5 grams of unidentified fat.)

New Oreos without trans fats: Serving size is three cookies, 160 calories, 7 total fat grams (2 grams saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 3 grams monounsaturated fat, 1 gram unidentified fat).

Click here to read the full article.


© 2003-06, Inc.