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Lawsuit vs Coke's vitaminwater to proceed: judge

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Coca-Cola Co has failed to win dismissal of a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading the public through health-related claims on bottles of its vitaminwater beverage.

Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn ruled that the suit, brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and consumers, should proceed despite Coca-Cola's attempt to have it dismissed on technical grounds pertaining to the primacy of federal over state law.

Gleeson found the company's challenge unconvincing and stated instead that vitaminwater's labels could violate the Food and Drug Administration's labeling regulations.

Specifically, the use of the word "healthy" could violate the FDA's so-called "jelly bean rule," developed in order to prevent food companies from encouraging the sale of "junk foods" by fortifying them with nutrients, according to Gleeson's 55-page ruling on Wednesday.

The rule restricts claims that use the word "healthy" to suggest that a food, because of its nutrient content, may help consumers maintain healthy dietary practices, and it is possible that vitaminwater does that, Gleeson found.

"The potential for confusion is heightened by the presence of other statements in vitaminwater's labeling, such as the description of the product as a 'vitamin enhanced water beverage' and the phrases 'vitamins+water = all you need' and 'vitamins+water = what's in your hand', which have the potential to reinforce a consumer's mistaken belief that the product is comprised of only vitamins and water," Gleeson said.

Coca-Cola could not be reached immediately for comment.

The case is Ackerman et al v Coca-Cola Company and Energy Brands Inc, No. 09-cv-00395, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

(Reporting by Helen Chernikoff and Martinne Geller; Editing by Richard Chang)

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