New Blog Series: Ask a Food Lawyer

Have you ever wondered:

  • What does “natural” mean on food labels?
  • Do corporations really have a free speech right to advertise to children?
  •  Why are some foods containing hydrogenated oils still labeled “zero grams trans-fat?”
  •  Why can’t we just sue the food industry for making people sick?

These are just some of the questions that I’ve received from curious readers. For this new blog series, I will answer these and other questions related to the exciting and still emerging, but critical area of food law.

Many of the issues impacting our food choices everyday are complicated, often because of complex laws behind policies ranging from nutrition labels to organic standards. (You can thank lawyers for causing some of the confusion.)

From industry misinformation to a lack of government transparency to incomprehensible legalese, people who care about food are understandably confused. I want this series to take some of the mystery out of the policies behind what we eat.

Because I am not an expert in every facet of food law, I’ll be drawing on my colleagues in the field to help answer questions I can’t. As I’ve said before, lawyers play an important (yet largely invisible) role in the good food movement. Lawyers are behind every food labeling law, every regulation to improve food safety or organic standards, even the expansion of farmers markets. And people should know who these lawyers are and what they do. Lawyers do much more than file lawsuits; in fact most lawyers I know don’t work in courtroom settings at all.

What This Series is Not, a.k.a. Legal Disclaimer.

While “Ask a Food Lawyer” is a place for questions about the law, neither I (nor any other contributor) is giving legal advice. This won’t be a place to get legal advice, for example, about your new cupcake truck or backyard henhouse. These posts are for informational and educational purposes only, and do not constitute legal advice nor are we entering into an attorney-client relationship. And, since its not legal advice and is posted on the Internet, it’s neither confidential nor subject to attorney-client privilege.

Also, most legal opinions are subject to different interpretation by other lawyers. It may surprise you to learn there is often not one “right answer” and lawyers have been known to argue! The point of this series is to raise awareness about how the law applies to food and get some discussion going, not necessarily to have the last word. OK, enough of that.

Assisting me with this project is Neil Thapar, an attorney based in San Francisco whose interests include food law and policy. His previous legal experience includes genetically engineered food litigation and animal welfare policy. He is also an amateur farmer. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

So, do you have a question about food law? Then here is your chance. Post a question in the comment section, or email me at (subject line = Ask a Food Lawyer), or post them to Twitter @MicheleRSimon. You can also find me on Facebook. Every two weeks or so, I’ll post a question that I’ve received along with an answer. (I may not be able to answer all questions.) You can follow along on my blog, Facebook, or on Twitter with the hashtag, #AskaFoodLawyer.

6 Responses to “New Blog Series: Ask a Food Lawyer”

  1. Debbie Calhoun says:

    Hi, are there any labeling standards for gluten free claims?
    Is there any danger in labeling an item gluten free when it is packaged in a facility that is not gluten free?
    If there aren’t any standards for labeling are there any standards that you would recommend adopting?
    We are seeing so many items labeled gluten free as marketing tools for people looking to adopt gluten free but are not celiac.
    Thanks in advance.

  2. J says:

    Does organic = non-GMO?

  3. Rebecca J says:

    What does “nondairy” mean, on a food label? I know it doesn’t always mean that the product contains no dairy products.

    I figure that there was a day, long ago, when “dairy” meant “good”, and the government thought it had to protect consumers from fake dairy products. There must be some interesting history, there.

  4. [...] to Neil Thapar for research and drafting assistance. Next up on Ask a Food Lawyer: Why are some foods containing partially hydrogenated oils labeled “zero grams trans fat”? Got [...]

  5. [...] to Neil Thapar for research and drafting assistance for Ask a Food Lawyer. Got a question? Email me: (Sorry, but I can’t answer all [...]

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