Petaluma Farms

[Current organic standards state that organic livestock producers must “establish and maintain living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species [emphasis added].”  Evidence gathered by The Cornucopia Institute, including photos and satellite imagery, indicates that the laying hens at this industrial-scale facility are confined indoors to their barn. 

Cornucopia’s organic egg scorecard rates companies that market name-brand and private-label organic “shell” eggs based on 22 criteria that are important to organic consumers.

In early September, Aurora Organic Dairy paid $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit regarding fraudulent marketing claims concerning organic milk.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ADLF) class action lawsuit filed on Oct. 1 alleges that packaging used for Judy’s Eggs mistakenly leads consumers to believe the eggs come from free-range hens.]

Animal Legal Defense Fund Sues Bay Area Egg Producers For False “Free-Range” Advertising

Lawsuit Targets Deceptive Promotional Materials Used by Judy’s Eggs and Petaluma Egg Farm

Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
Megan Backus, ALDF

OAKLAND, Calif. – The national non-profit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a class-action lawsuit in California Superior Court today against Judy’s Family Farm Organic Eggs (“Judy’s Eggs”) and Petaluma Egg Farm for violating California’s consumer protection laws. ALDF’s complaint targets the packaging used by these egg producers, which leads consumers to mistakenly believe the eggs come from free-range hens. This deceptive marketing violates California’s Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act, which prohibit unfair and deceptive advertising.

ALDF, along with the legal firm Fazio/Micheletti, is asking the court to prevent Judy’s Eggs from using images that imply its products come from non-confined hens in an outdoor environment. Cartons of Judy’s Eggs feature an image of hens roaming about an expansive green field. The packages contain a written message that states hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” In reality, the hens are crammed in covered sheds with no outdoor access.

Implying their hens are free-range when they are not provides an unfair advantage over actual free-range egg producers, and also cheats consumers. Americans spend more for higher levels of animal welfare because they find the suffering of egg-laying hens objectionable. Many, like California resident Camilla Glover, one of the plaintiffs co-filing the complaint, are willing to pay more for perceived improvement in animal treatment. Deceptive packaging like that on Judy’s Eggs allows the company to profit from misleading well-intentioned consumers.

The suit names Steven Mahrt of Petaluma Egg Farm, a large egg production, packaging, and marketing company located in Petaluma, Calif. “Well-established law and public policy make clear that it is not permissible for businesses to increase their sales by misleading their customers” says Jeffrey L. Fazio, attorney with Fazio/Micheletti. “Unfortunately, Defendant Mahrt does not seem to understand that.” Mahrt’s company distributes its eggs regionally at such stores as Safeway, Whole Foods, Oliver’s Market, and El Cerrito Natural Grocery.

ALDF filed the case as a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all consumers who bought Judy’s Eggs under the mistaken belief that the hens can roam outdoors. This allows all harmed consumers to recoup monetary damages that could total millions of dollars and send a strong signal to the industry that misrepresentations about animal welfare will not be tolerated.

“Consumers who care about the welfare of egg-laying hens have been deceived,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “People who are willing to pay a premium for Judy’s Eggs have a right to know the truth about the eggs they purchase.”

Copies of the lawsuit are available upon request.

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