Perdue Faces Class Action Lawsuit Over Dubious ‘Humane’ Claims

The latest PR battle over food labeling comes right on the heels of our coverage of the controversy surrounding common and often meaningless labels like “natural” and “farm fresh” — and our speculation about whether related PR wars could eventually lead to more accountability and, in the long run, healthier products.

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, which was filed by two members of The Humane Society of the United States on behalf of consumers, alleges that Perdue is illegally marketing chicken products as “Humanely Raised” in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.

“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 suit alleges that Perdue’s “humane” standards allow for treatment that most would consider blatantly inhumane, including painful handling and shackling of live birds, housing in conditions that prevent normal resting behavior and cause various 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 methods.

In fact, a major part 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 (ya think?), saying, that it is  “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.”

A win for the plaintiffs would be an obvious PR loss for Perdue, but even if the poultry company emerges victorious from the courtroom, the court of public opinion has, in all likelihood, already reached an (unflattering) conclusion. But once again, we hope this public shaming will result in the removal of misleading “humane” labels or — even better — changes in the company’s protocol that would allow them to make such claims with a clear conscience.

If all else fails, we suppose they could always just follow KFC’s lead and start a poetry contest