Deceptive Egg Carton Labeling Lands FDA, USDA and FTC in Federal Court

Two national nonprofits, Animal Legal Defense Fund and Compassion Over Killing, have filed a complaint in a federal district court in Oakland, Calif. against the FDA, USDA, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agriculture Marketing Service, and the FTC for failing to regulate animal welfare labeling claims common on egg cartons.

According to a statement on Compassion Over Killing’s website, petitions filed in 2006 and 2007 requested the agencies make it required that “egg production methods be fully disclosed on the labeling of all cartons sold in the U.S.” The groups claims that 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.” The groups say the United Egg Producers, the U.S. egg industry’s trade association, has endorsed federal legislation containing “a similar labeling program.”

The lawsuit’s petitioned action would require egg producers to accurately and clearly label egg production methods on egg cartons, “because 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.” In particular, “Eggs from Caged Hens” would be required to appear on labels where correct—and it’s true in about 95 percent of the eggs sold in the US, reports Compassion Over Killing—but many of those eggs are sold in cartons where labels include images of healthy hens, often outdoors in natural settings, despite the opposite being true. “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.”

Recently, in Germany, the country’s organic certifier pledged to redefine “organic” when it applied to egg production, particularly taking into consideration the ethical treatment of egg-laying hens and the quality of their environment. Under the new definition, large-scale factory farm situations would lose organic certification.

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