A California lawsuit accuses HerbThyme Farms, Compton, Calif., of selling conventionally grown herbs as organic.

Courthouse News Service reported HerbThyme faces a class action lawsuit that claims the company “played California consumers for fools” by labeling and selling organic herbs that weren’t organic.

HerbThyme shot back May 12 saying the lawsuit is extremely vague and doesn’t provide specifics on the basis of the allegations. 

Plaintiffs allege HerbThyme deceived organic food purchasers when it “slapped higher price tags on its products, and turned a tidy — albeit illicit — profit” for conventionally grown herbs it labeled as “Fresh Organic,” according to Courthouse News Service.

Ben Ho, HerbThyme’s business director, said the lawsuit falsely implies that any problem the company had with labeling its organic product was from the direction of management and that labeling issues were wide ranging.

“I’m not sure where they are getting a lot of this data, but it’s incorrect,” Ho said.

The attorney representing plaintiffs, Raymond Boucher, did not return a request for comment.

Ho said the allegations are false because the company can’t fill all the orders it receives for its organic herbs and routinely holds customers’ orders until it has enough product.

Ho also disputed the lawsuit’s claims that the company enriched itself through mislabeling because for the volume of herbs the company sells every year, such practices would create little additional revenue.

In a letter sent to customers sent in May, HerbThyme said it conducts “regular internal reviews” of its organic products but “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.”

Ho said because of the litigation he couldn’t get into details about the terminations or “irregular practices” but said the employees who were fired failed to follow company policy about conventional and organic quality standards, even after additional training.

Problems HerbThyme had in the past with quality practices for its organic herbs were limited to a handful of employees, Ho said.

For at least the past year, HerbThyme has offered an anonymous hotline with an outside company for employees to report problems, Ho said.

HerbThyme is the largest grower, shipper and marketer of California grown conventional and certified organic fresh culinary herbs in the U.S. HerbThyme Farms has more than 200 acres of conventional farmland and 150 acres dedicated to the growing of USDA certified organic herbs. HerbThyme Farms grows and ships more than 5 million pounds of fresh herbs annually.

Ho said the all the company’s organic certifications are current and is regularly audited by certifier PrimusLabs.com.

The class action suit seeks restitution, damages and an injunction, alleging unjust enrichment, fraud and violations of the California business and consumer laws.

A March audit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program found the program, in some cases, did not enforce regulations and lacked residue tests on certified organic products.

In particular, the audit found fault with the lack of oversight of the California State Organic Program, overseen by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Although California has more than 2,000 certified organic operations, deficiencies “resulted in reduced assurance that the state’s certified organic operations and their products meet regulatory requirements,” according to the audit.

The state has until the end of the month to rectify the concerns raised in the audit, or the USDA will “initiate appropriate enforcement actions,” according to the audit. 

HerbThyme denies mislabeling organics