A few years ago, Penn and Teller pulled a great prank. They sent one of their colleagues to an environmental rally and asked attendees to sign onto a petition to ban the dangerous chemical known as dihydrogen monoxide, which is the chemical name for…wait for it…water. WATER!

Rally participants enthusiastically signed the petition (watch the entire video here

Last week, the prank became a reality.

The latest alarmist headlines stem from a new lawsuit filed against the National Beverage Corp–the parent company of LaCroix, the much loved sparkling water brand that has helped millions – including this former Diet Coke addict – switch from sugary and sugar-free sodas to flavored carbonated waters. 

(Note: I don’t think sugary and diet sodas are dangerous or unhealthy—if consumed in moderation. But that was my problem with sodas; I had trouble with moderation, so a switch to carbonated water was better for me).

According to a post on the ambulance chaser’s law firm’s website, the suit was filed on behalf of their “client “…and “all those injured by the popular sparkling water brand’s false claims to be ‘all natural’ and ‘100% natural.’” Injured? I can’t wait to see the list of injuries—from drinking water. 

The filing also states that tests (no doubt conducted by a super unbiased lab paid by the law firm) reveal that LaCroix contains a number of artificial ingredients, including linalool, which is used in cockroach insecticide. 

This will be an interesting case to watch. The truth is, labels like “all natural” and “100% natural” are silly, meaningless marketing terms that don’t in any way indicate the health-level or purity of a product. Frankly, a lot of food labels frustrate me. For example, seeing the Non-GMO label on things that aren’t modified or even authorized by the FDA to be modified (like wheat products, salt, herbs and spices) drives me bonkers. 

Sadly, companies know that a certain demographic of consumers will pay more for Non-GMO products and they know that most of these people are unaware that there are only a few GMO products available in the marketplace. Currently, only a few genetically modified products are FDA approved to be sold in the marketplace: corn (field & sweet), soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya, some types of squash, a non-browning apple called the Arctic Apple, a brown-resistant potato, and a certain type of farmed salmon (see this great blog post by scientist Kevin Folta for more details on these GMO products). 

Yet, thousands of products contain the Non-GMO label. Why? Because it’s a simple business decision—the Non-GMO label = more money. 

La Croix is no different. By labeling their water “all natural,” they know that some consumers will find that label attractive and my purchase it over a store-brand or lesser known sparkling water that doesn’t have all the virtue signaling labels attached. 

Of course, what’s likely to get lost in this case and this conversation over whether the “all natural” label was accurate is the considerably less sexy fact that synthetic flavorings (more commonly called artificial flavorings) are not dangerous. 

Popular Science explains this really well in its blog post on this lawsuit against La Croix: 

…this lawsuit seems to be a stretch, working on the ambiguous nature of how the FDA distinguishes natural chemicals from synthetic ones, and a product of alarmist, chemophobic ideas about what we put in our foods.

[The lawsuit’s] allegations sound nasty, suggesting the company is pulling a fast one on consumers and dumping some hazardous substances into those colorfully-decorated aluminum cans.

But even the three chemicals listed—limonene, linalool, and linalool propionate (better known as linalyl propionate)—don’t exactly qualify as synthetic, and they’re also not nearly as dangerous to consumers as Beaumont Costales’ statement suggests.

Popular Science goes on to explain that one of the three chemicals mentioned in the lawsuit—limonene—is also known as “naturally occurring chemical,” and is “a major component of oil extracted from citrus peels” and is often used to give foods or other products a lemony flavor and fragrance.

Linalool – also named in the lawsuit is also  “naturally occurring,” yet as Popular Science points out, it is also “most definitely used in insecticides” adding “But that doesn’t mean it’s poisonous to humans” and reminding readers that “we don’t ban chocolate just because dogs can’t eat it.”  

Lastly, linalyl propionate is also mentioned in the lawsuit. Popular Science also explains that this flavoring is derived from super scary plants like ginger and lavender. Interestingly, Popular science also writes that this chemical has been known to help “inhibit the proliferation of prostate cancer” yet in the lawsuit, it states that this chemical “might actually be bad for cancer cells.” 

Consumers should be aware that these sorts of ridiculous lawsuits will happen more now. Especially on the heels of the recent lawsuit against Monsanto, where the court awarded a man $289 million in damages on the weak claim that Glyphosate—which is non-carcinogenic—caused his cancer. His lawyers will reap millions of dollars off this settlement, if it’s ever paid out (appeals are pending). This has encouraged other lawyers to use these tactics and take advantage of the widespread chemphobia that currently exists among consumers.