Law Review: Foster Farms chicken labeled ’American Humane Certified’ challenged as misleading
Many of you may be familiar with the mostly – yellow circular American Humane Certified label. The label supposedly certifies animals in the program were humanely raised. The program was challenged by Carol Leining in Carol Leining v. Foster Poultry Farms, Inc.
AMERICAN HUMANE CERTIFIED
American Humane is a nonprofit organization that operates a program called American Humane Certified.
Foster Farms and American Humane were taken to court by Carol Leining who claimed Foster Farms chickens with the label, which are more expensive, is misleading because the chickens are treated in a manner that “falls well short of a reasonable consumer’s expectations for humane treatment.” Leining claimed the certified chickens are treated no better than any other chickens farmed for food and certainly the label does not mean the chickens were humanely raised as anyone would expect it to mean.
The court Opinion did not discuss the actual standards of the American Humane Certified label but from what I could gather, chickens may be labeled American Humane Certified even though they are not given adequate living space or even allowed to go outdoors and in some cases the label does not even guarantee that the animals, like pigs, are not raised in a cage. On the other hand, the label probably means the animals are raised better than they would otherwise be raised.
FEDERAL LABELING LAWS
All poultry products sold in the United States are subject to the Poultry and Poultry Products Inspection Act. Labeling regulations must be preapproved by the Federal Safety and Inspections Service (“FSIS”). The FSIS approved the American Humane Certified logo and label.
Foster Farms and American Humane argued that their chickens sold with the American Humane Certified logo/label met the federal standards.
Leining argued that even if that were true, Foster Farms-labeled chickens are not afforded a “comfortable existence and a quick and painless death.” As such, Foster Farms is guilty of unfair competition, negligent misrepresentation and breach of warranty.
COURT RULING: FEDERAL PREEMPTION
The Second Appellate District Court upheld the trial court’s decision accepting Foster Farms’ legal argument that the labeling of poultry is set by federal standards, thus a matter of federal preemption. By approving the labels, the federal government certifies they are not misleading. End of story.
The Court of Appeal cited several California attempts at regulating food products where California’s more stringent labels were found preemptive and unenforceable. Such as the use of the word “fresh” on poultry, and the use of the phrase “98% fat free” and “25% less sodium” and “100% natural” and “no preservatives.” All were found to be inappropriate as different than the pre-approved federal labels. Humm.
READ THE LABEL
My suggestion if this interests you, is that you research exactly what it means to be labeled “American Humane Certified.” Is it an appreciatively higher standard to justify paying more for the product?
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.portersimon.com.
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