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The Care Label that Covered Abuse and Fraud

by 5m Editor
22 February 2008, at 3:45pm

US - Misleading "Animal Care Certified" logo has sparked a lawsuit this week when it was alleged that the label is still being stamped on egg cartons in violation of agreements with multiple state Attorneys. The label first came under furious scrutiny years ago for its deceptive and fraudulent message to consumers, that let companies hide the truth behind their animal abuse.

A label of deceipt

General and the FTC Compassion Over Killing (COK) and an egg consumer are filing a lawsuit today in Middlesex County Superior Court in New Jersey against the industry trade group United Egg Producers (UEP) and ISE America, a New Jersey egg factory farm, alleging violations of consumer protection laws based on the continued use of the misleading "Animal Care Certified" logo on egg cartons--a deceptive logo that the UEP agreed to stop using by April 2006.

"Animal Care Certified," which should now be referred to by the industry as "United Egg Producers Certified," is a voluntary program developed by the UEP that sets forth animal husbandry guidelines that in many ways codify industry norms and essentially represents the factory-farming practices many concerned consumers wish to avoid. The program allows egg factory farmers to confine hens inside barren wire battery cages so restrictive the birds can barely move, let alone engage in some of their most basic behaviors, such as nesting, perching, or even walking. The UEP's guidelines recommend affording only 67 square inches of cage space per hen--smaller than a sheet of letter-sized paper. The lack of space and barren conditions cause the birds severe frustration

The UEP's "Animal Care Certified" logo first came under scrutiny in 2003, when the Better Business Bureau deemed the claim misleading because it conveys to consumers a false message of humane animal care. The consumer protection agency upheld its ruling in 2004 upon the UEP's appeal, though the logo continued to be widely advertised.

The UEP agreed to discontinue the "Animal Care Certified" claim pursuant to a September 2005 agreement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and a September 2006 agreement with the Attorneys General of the District of Columbia and 16 states, including New Jersey. The settlement with the Attorneys General was accompanied by a $100,000 fine, a commitment to "take all steps necessary" to ensure removal of the logo and an agreement that any further use of the claim would constitute a violation of the state's consumer protection laws. COK filed complaints today with the New Jersey and New York Attorneys General, alerting them to the continued use of the logo in their states and asking them to take action.

As recently as yesterday, February 19, 2008, COK has documented cartons of eggs bearing the deceptive "Animal Care Certified" logo on sale in grocery stores in New Jersey. Additionally, COK has recent documentation of this misleading logo being advertised on egg cartons in stores in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Delaware. According to the label, these eggs were all packaged and distributed by ISE America, an egg factory farm and packing plant in Franklin Township, New Jersey with approximately one million hens confined inside battery cages.

The conditions for hens inside ISE America's facility in New Jersey, as documented by a COK investigator who was employed at the facility in 2007, are cruel and abusive, and a far cry from what most consumers would consider humane animal care. The cruelties revealed in undercover video include birds overcrowded in cages, severely decomposed birds left in cages with live birds, ill birds denied individual veterinary care, and hens stuck in between the wires of their cages, unable to access food or water.

"The continued and widespread use of the misleading 'Animal Care Certified' logo demonstrates a blatant disregard for the federal and state agencies that have been involved in this matter and for consumers' rights not to be deceived," states Cheryl Leahy, general counsel for Compassion Over Killing. "Looking at its notorious record on both animal cruelty and consumer fraud, it's clear that the egg industry has again proven that it's simply incapable of regulating itself."

Plaintiffs are represented by the animal protection law firm of Egert and Trakinski.

More details about this case and COK's campaign to end the use of the "Animal Care Certified" logo, including previous investigations inside certified egg factory farms, can be found at COK.net.

Compassion Over Killing (COK) is a nonprofit animal advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Since 1995, COK has worked to end the abuse of animals in agriculture through undercover investigations, public outreach, litigation, and other advocacy programs. On the web at http://www.COK.net.

5m Editor