By Kristine Dennis
As consumers, we all struggle to navigate the complex and often unclear labels covering the foods we purchase while trying to make informed decisions based on where our food has come from and how it was grown/raised.
A class action lawsuit regarding this issue was filed by two members of the Humane Society of the United States against Perdue, one of the largest poultry producers in the country. The suit was first brought against Perdue in 2010 claiming a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, alleging false advertising of their “Harvestland” and “Perdue” chicken products as “humanely raised”.
In an exciting development over the past month, a federal court in New Jersey has denied Perdue’s arguments for dismissal. This brings the case forward into a pre-trial phase of evidence collection and trial later this year. The lawsuit alleges that most consumers would not consider the conditions under which these chickens are raised “humane”. The standards allow for housing conditions that prevent normal resting behaviors, transportation of birds for long distances with no food or water in extreme temperatures, painful handling and ultimately inhumane slaughter.
Perdue’s primary defense has been that consumers do not expect “humanely raised” to apply to slaughter. The court opposed this argument stating that the labeling could reasonably be understood by a consumer to apply all the way through slaughter. Chicken slaughter by Perdue does not fall under any federal humane regulations (poultry is currently not covered under the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act).
With consumer demand growing for “humanely-raised” products, this case emphasizes the need to hold companies accountable for their labeling. Ensuring that the raising and slaughtering practices that a label and price represent is key to both the consumer and the poultry producers who truly are leading the way in humane practices.