UPDATE 2-Sunflower seed lawsuit against ConAgra can proceed -court

Thu Feb 20, 2014 3:37pm EST

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO Feb 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit against ConAgra Foods Inc over the amount of sodium the company discloses on sunflower seed packages.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco found that federal law does not preempt claims that the sodium content of edible coating on sunflower seed shells must be disclosed in the nutritional labeling.

The case is one of a growing number of lawsuits against food manufacturers over their marketing practices.

"We don't comment on pending litigation, and we stand behind the accuracy of our labeling and the quality of our products," ConAgra said in an emailed statement.

Lawyers for a purchaser of ConAgra's David Sunflower Seeds filed the proposed class-action lawsuit in a Los Angeles federal court. They claimed the nutritional information misrepresents the sodium content of the seeds by focusing exclusively on the kernels, according to court documents.

However, since consumers place the entire seed in their mouths before eating the kernel and spitting out the shell, ConAgra should disclose the sodium in both, the 2012 lawsuit said.

A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, but a three-judge 9th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 on Thursday that the shell coatings are intended to be ingested.

"Indeed, these coatings come in flavors such as 'Ranch' and 'Nacho Cheese' precisely because they are to be consumed before the shell is discarded," 9th Circuit Judge Barry Silverman wrote.

An attorney for the plaintiff could not immediately be reached for comment.

The case in the 9th Circuit is Lilly vs. ConAgra Foods, 12-55921.

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