Two California consumers have filed a putative class action in federal court against Amazon, accusing the retailer of not telling customers that spices the company sells under its “Happy Belly” brand contain unsafe amounts of arsenic, lead, and cadmium.
The proposed consumer action has been filed on behalf of a class of individuals who purchased ground thyme manufactured and sold by Amazon under the trade name of “Happy Belly” — but the plaintiffs say they are reserving their right to expand the list of spices covered by the suit during the litigation.
The retailer “profited from its unlawful, unfair, misleading, and deceptive practices at the expense of plaintiffs and class members and the circumstances make it unjust for Amazon to retain the benefit,” the complaint states.
The spices are sold online as well as in brick‐and‐mortar stores.
The litigation stems from an investigation done by the consumer advocacy group Consumer Reports, which released an article in November 2021 saying that herbs and spices from a number of well-known retailers, including Amazon, McCormick, Trader Joes and Whole Foods, showed traces of arsenic, cadmium and lead in amounts high enough to raise health concerns.
Filed by Golden State residents Arturo Sauceda and Michael Sizemore, both consumers purchased Happy Belly Ground Thyme in California from the Washington-based retailer. Sauceda said he purchased the Amazon product multiple times since 2017 and most recently in February 2022. Sizemore bought the ground thyme from Amazon once, in September 2021.
Amazon does not list the heavy metals as ingredients on the spices’ labels, nor warn consumers of their potential presence in its spices.
Amazon knew, or should have known, this information would be important to consumers and would influence whether or not they would buy the product. Keeping the information concealed is fraudulent conduct “because it has the effect of deceiving consumers into believing that the spices do not contain heavy metals.”
Sauceda and Sizemore seek to represent a nationwide class of consumers who purchased and consumed Amazon’s “Happy Belly” spices, saying the class could number in the thousands to tens of thousands.
“The number of members in the classes is presently unknown to plaintiffs but may be verified by Amazon’s records,” adding that members of the class could then be notified of the action by mail, email, and internet postings and other forms of publication.
Sauceda and Sizemore lodge several claims against Amazon, including unjust enrichment and fraud, and violation of the unfair competition and fraudulent conduct prongs of California’s business and professions code, California’s false advertising law, California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, and the Washington Consumer Protection Act.
The suit seeks injunctive relief and damages, along with attorney fees.
Consumer Reports published the results of its investigation online. According to the report, the organization tested 126 herbs and spices from 38 brands for arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
Results for three Amazon “Happy Belly” products are posted: For ground coriander and curry powder, there was “no concern,” but for ground thyme, Consumer Reports cites a “high concern” if the product is consumed.