A federal court in New Jersey has cleared the way for a class action lawsuit against the nation’s third-largest poultry producer, Perdue Farms, Inc., over the company’s alleged false advertising of factory farmed chicken products as “humane.” The suit—filed by two members of The Humane Society of the United States on behalf of consumers duped by Perdue—alleges that Perdue is illegally marketing chicken products as “Humanely Raised” in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The complaint seeks a jury trial and damages for the class members, as well as injunctive relief. In a decision issued on Easter Sunday, the court denied every one of Perdue’s arguments for dismissal, clearing the way for the case to proceed to discovery and eventually trial.
“Companies such as Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for products that meet higher animal welfare standards,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation at The HSUS. “Slapping ‘humanely raised’ stickers on the same old factory farmed products is not going to cut it with either consumers or the courts.”
The lawsuit alleges that the standards upon which Perdue bases its “Humanely Raised” claim are not meaningfully different from the so-called “Animal Welfare Guidelines” of the National Chicken Council—a poultry industry trade group. The suit alleges that Perdue’s standards allow for treatment that no reasonable consumer would consider “humane,” including painful handling and shackling of live birds; housing in conditions that prevent normal resting behavior and cause painful health problems; the transport of birds on cramped trucks for long periods of time in extreme temperatures with no food or water; and inhumane slaughter of birds.
A key element of Perdue’s defense is the claim that consumers do not expect a “Humanely Raised” label to be an assurance that birds are humanely slaughtered. The Court disagreed and explained that it is entirely “plausible for the reasonable consumer to construe the Humanely Raised label as speaking to Perdue’s processes up until the time of death, including slaughter.” It is undisputed that Perdue’s chickens, like virtually all commercial poultry products, are slaughtered in facilities that according to USDA fall outside the protections of the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and are thus afforded no federal humane regulation or oversight at all.
The plaintiffs are represented in the case by Tycko & Zavareei LLP; David M. Wacksman, Esq.; and attorneys with The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation Section.
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