A lawsuit has been filed against Trader Joe's, claiming the chain has been deceptive in the labeling of its cage-free eggs. The suit, which was filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund on behalf of a Trader Joe's egg purchaser, claims that while Trader Joe's is packaging its eggs in cartons with images of hens foraging in pastures, the cage-free eggs actually come from industrial hen houses, where hens do not have access to the outdoors.
The suit alleges that Trader Joe's marketing violates multiple California consumer protection laws, including the Unfair Competition Law, False Advertising Law, and Consumer Legal Remedies Act.
“This lawsuit against Trader Joe's is based on false and misleading imagery that covers the top of some Trader Joe's Cage Free egg cartons,” explains Tyler Lobdell, Food Law Fellow at the Animal Legal Defense Fund. “Trader Joe's employs two different egg cartons that depict hens foraging outdoors on green pastures nestled among bucolic farm buildings. By pairing this imagery with the text ‘Cage Free,’ Trader Joe's is capitalizing on consumer confusion as to what ‘Cage Free’ actually means, and deceptively induces conscientious consumers seeking eggs from hens raised in more natural, less cruel environments to purchase these eggs, which actually come from hens that never had access to the outdoors, much less expansive grass-covered pastures as represented.”
Legally, the “cage-free” label can be applied to eggs laid by any hens not raised in battery cages. According to the Humane Society, most cage-free hens live in flocks of several thousand, raised in cramped barns. Only eggs that also boast the "free-range" label must also have access to the outdoors.
"USDA currently has a voluntary grading and certification process for 'cage-free' eggs that requires producers to give hens unlimited access to food and water and to provide them with the freedom to roam within their housing facility,” explains Lobdell. He notes that "the Animal Legal Defense Fund has no evidence at this time that Trader Joe's Cage Free eggs are in violation" of these regulations.
In 2016, Trader Joe's made a commitment to transition its entire egg supply to cage-free by 2025.
A similar suit was filed against Walmart in January. As opposed to Trader Joe's, which is under fire for its conventional cage-free egg cartons, the suit against Walmart targeted certified organic cage-free eggs sold by the chain, which also feature images of chickens roaming in green pastures. Like Trader Joe's, Walmart was not technically in violation of any rules, however, the USDA organic requirement for "outdoor access" in the raising of these hens was fulfilled by screened porches with concrete floors.
The Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule, a set of humane regulations that would have clarified the USDA organic standard's stance on this and other policies, was recently officially killed after several delays by the Trump Administration since its initial publication in January 2017.
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