Lawsuit Pushes for Mandatory Labeling of Eggs as “From Caged Hens,” “Cage-Free,” or “Free-Range”
For immediate release:
March 28, 2013
OAKLAND, Calif. – Today, the national nonprofits Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and Compassion Over Killing (COK) filed a complaint in a federal district court in Oakland against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agriculture Marketing Service, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for failing to regulate animal welfare labeling on egg cartons. Rule-making petitions originally submitted to these agencies in 2006 and 2007 had requested that egg production methods be fully disclosed on the labeling of all cartons sold in the U.S. In spite of Congressional mandates, the agencies have failed to take any action to regulate the often-misleading claims and deceptive imagery widely found on egg cartons. Even the United Egg Producers, the U.S. egg industry’s trade association, has endorsed federal legislation containing a similar labeling program.
Under the lawsuit’s petitioned action, egg producers nationwide would be required to clearly label egg cartons with egg production methods, including the identification of “Eggs from Caged Hens.” Co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit include several Bay Area egg consumers who have relied on deceptive egg carton labeling in their efforts to purchase eggs from hens not confined in cages. Bingham McCutchen LLP are assisting with the case as pro bono counsel.
Why are feathers flying about the labeling of egg cartons? While an estimated 95% of eggs sold in the US come from birds crammed inside tiny wire cages where they are barely able to spread a wing, deceptive images on egg cartons often suggest hens are raised in natural, outdoor, free-range settings where they can move freely, nest, raise their young, and forage for food. Today’s lawsuit alleges that false or exaggerated claims about the welfare of hens are so prevalent in the egg market that concerned consumers are often duped into believing eggs come from hens provided a much higher level of care than they are in reality. The egg industry’s own research suggests that many consumers are willing to pay more for eggs they perceive to have been produced by hens treated with a higher level of animal welfare.
“Not only is the egg industry cruelly confining hens in tiny wire cages, it’s also deceiving consumers about that abuse,” says Cheryl Leahy, general counsel for COK. “This misleading marketing needs to stop. Consumers—and animals—deserve truth in labeling.”
“Labeling requirements would help consumers avoid purchasing eggs from mistreated hens,” said ALDF executive director Stephen Wells. “It is long past due for these agencies to regulate the rampant false and misleading labeling used by egg producers to sell cruelly-produced food to well-intentioned shoppers.”
Copies of the lawsuit are available by request.
ALDF was founded in 1979 with the unique mission of protecting the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
Compassion Over Killing (COK) is a national nonprofit animal protection organization. Since 1995, COK has worked to end the abuse of animals in agriculture through undercover investigations, public outreach, litigation, and other advocacy programs. COK is on the web at www.COK.net.