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HerbThyme disputes lawsuit alleging organic mislabeling

by Tim Linden | May 12, 2010
HerbThyme Farms, headquartered in Compton, CA, will vigorously fight a class action lawsuit that was recently filed in California by attorney Raymond Boucher alleging mislabeling of organic products from at least one of its facilities.

The firm was first notified of the suit in late April, and it quickly released a statement briefly explaining the origin of the charges and vowing to "defend our products and reputation vigorously."

The letter stated, in part, "HerbThyme conducts regular internal reviews of our organic products and labeling. We do not tolerate anyone doing anything to jeopardize the quality of our products. Unfortunately, there were a few incidents in the past when employees engaged in irregular practices. As soon as that came to our attention, we immediately terminated those employees."

Ben Ho, business director for the company, said that HerbThyme does not dispute that there have been sporadic instances over the many years that the company has been in business when issues have arisen. "We test our product, and so do our customers. If a problem arises, we fix it," he said.

However, he categorically denied what he called the "tone" of the court filing, which he said seems to imply that mislabeling of organic product is a company strategy or an ongoing problem.

The letter that the firm has sent to all its customers and major media outlets, including The Produce News, offers an apology for any problems in the past and attempts to assure customers that the company has "taken corrective action to make sure it does not continue." It added, "Since those incidents occurred, we have enhanced our quality and food-safety functions and put in additional layers of control. This will further ensure both the quality and integrity of our products."

The letter also reveals that the firm has an anonymous hotline for its employees to report any concerns they may have. "We encourage them to use this hotline, which is managed by an outside firm, to report any actions that violate our high standards for quality control and product integrity. We are confident these steps are working," said the statement.

Mr. Ho said that HerbThyme Farms was founded in the mid-1980s as a conventional herb grower and shipper, and went through organic certification within the last six years or so.

"Currently, we have 150 acres certified organic and 200 acres of conventional herbs. We ship more than 5 million pounds of herbs every year from six facilities," he said. "We are confident that the product we are shipping is labeled correctly."