On July 9, 2018, the Organic Consumers Association (“OCA”) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. (“Ben & Jerry’s” or the “Company”) and its parent company. The national nonprofit consumer advocacy group accused the ice cream manufacturer of advertising that its product is sourced from “happy cows” in “caring dairies,” when the milk is actually purchased from inhumane factory farms.
The complaint alleges the majority of farms from which Ben & Jerry’s sources its milk have not been verified as meeting the Company’s “caring dairy” standards, which include categories such as “cow care” and “planet stewardship.” Quite to the contrary, many of the farms from which Ben & Jerry’s buys practice non-grazing and cow confinement.
In the complaint, OCA accuses Unilever of “building on Ben & Jerry’s reputation as an environmentally responsible company to deceive consumers into believing that the products are made with humane and environmentally responsible practices. The green fields and grazing, ‘happy’ cows shown on the products misrepresent the kind of industrial dairy practices…that supply much of the milk found in the products.”
Furthermore, OCA alleges some Ben & Jerry’s products contain trace amounts of glyphosate, an “environmentally harmful biocide,” rendering the Company’s claims of “finding ways to reduce the environmental impact of our business” even more fraudulent. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s weed killer, Roundup, and is alleged by consumers in a separate lawsuit to cause cancer. While the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has not identified glyphosate as a likely cancer-causing agent, OCA claims it is still injurious to the environment.
The international director of OCA, Ronnie Cummins, said in a July 11, 2018, statement that Unilever had a $9 million advertising budget in 2017, much of which was spent “to create the false perception that Ben & Jerry’s is committed to a clean environment and high animal welfare standards…Unilever knows those values foster brand loyalty and also allow the company to charge a premium. Ben & Jerry’s decades-old practice of sourcing dairy ingredients from conventional dairy operations has led to a water pollution crisis in Vermont. There is nothing socially or environmentally responsible about that.”
A recent report of Vermont waterways published by nonprofit Regeneration Vermont detailed how the factory farms supplying Ben & Jerry’s milk have contributed to the state’s water purity problem. Over 100 waterways in Vermont are now classified as “impaired” by the EPA.
Regeneration Vermont’s President, Michael Colby, commented that Ben & Jerry’s has long been “doing bad and feeling good about it…While they market it as ‘caring dairy,’ the cheap milk produced for Ben & Jerry’s relies upon factory-style farming practices, such as antibiotics use and animal confinement, that contaminate the state’s waterways.”
OCA filed the suit under the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act. The nonprofit is seeking a declaration that Unilever violated the law and an order for the Company to amend its advertisements, as well as costs and disbursements for attorneys’ and experts’ fees, prejudgment interest, and any further relief as deemed appropriate by the court.
The legal team at Shepherd, Finkelman, Miller & Shah, LLP (“SFMS”) has significant experience litigating consumer fraud and class action matters. If you have any questions regarding this subject or this posting, please contact Nick Lussier (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Chiharu Sekino (email@example.com). We can also be reached toll-free at (866) 540-5505.
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Vogt, RJ. “Ben & Jerry’s Sources From Not-So-Happy Cows, Suit Says.” Law 360. Last modified on July 11, 2018.