Pilgrim’s Pride Sued For ‘Natural’ Food Label

Incorrect Food labels are again an issue. This week a Brazilian Chicken produce company is being sued for labeling their product as ‘Natural’ when it is not. The litigation follows a complaint filed in December with the FTC about its “humane” animal treatment claims.

Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation, is a Brazilian-owned, multi-national food company, currently one of the largest chicken producers in the United States and Puerto Rico and the second-largest chicken producer in Mexico. It exited bankruptcy in December 2009 and relocated its U.S. headquarters to Greeley, Colorado, in 2011.

American consumers willingly pay more for foods advertised as “natural,” “organic” or “humane.” Food companies took notice long ago, adding such pledges to all manner of products. But it can be challenging for shoppers to figure out whether those promises are real or empty branding. 

A lawsuit against chicken giant Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., filed by advocacy groups Food & Water Watch Inc. and Organic Consumers Association, turns on this very question. And they filed it in what’s arguably one of the most consumer-friendly courts in America. 

At issue is the Greeley, Colorado-based company’s marketing claims that its birds are fed “only natural ingredients,” treated humanely and produced in an environmentally responsible way, according to a complaint filed on Wednesday in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in Washington.

The company’s practices don’t live up to those claims, the plaintiffs alleged. The birds live in crowded, unsanitary warehouses, are abused by employees and have debilitating health conditions due to their breed, which was developed to grow fast, according to court papers. They’re raised with the help of routine use of antibiotics to promote growth and fed genetically modified organisms, the advocacy groups alleged in the filing. 

“Contrary to Pilgrim’s Pride’s representations, the chickens who become these products are, as a matter of standard business practices, treated in unnatural, cruel, and inhumane manners, from hatching through slaughter,” according to the complaint. The plaintiffs, represented by Richman Law Group and Animal Equality, are seeking an injunction and corrective advertising. 

Pilgrim’s Pride didn’t respond to several emails or a call seeking comment.

Pilgrim’s Pride now faces challenges about its marketing on multiple fronts. In December the company was the subject of a complaint filed by the Humane Society of the United States with the Federal Trade Commission, which said Pilgrim’s Pride was “scalding fully conscious chickens” as a result of its methods for slaughter, yet stating on its website at the time that its birds were being produced “as humanely as possible. ”

Photo credit: Mario Villafuerte/Bloomberg

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