9th Circuit asked to revive lawsuit over 'natural' chicken


By Mateusz Perkowski, Capital Press (OR)

Oct 16, 2020


Environmental and food safety advocates want to revive a lawsuit that accused a major chicken producer of false advertising for claiming its meat is “100% natural.”


The complaint filed by the Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety was thrown out last year by a federal judge who determined the nonprofits lacked legal standing to pursue the case.


Sanderson Farms, the chicken producer, allegedly relies on “unnatural, synthetic pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics” while raising birds in “cramped, overcrowded conditions” and slaughtering them in an “inhumane” way, the plaintiffs claim.


These practices do “not meet reasonable consumer standards for natural food,” which amounts to false advertising and unfair business practices, the groups said.


Without ruling on the merits of these allegations, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg in San Francisco dismissed the lawsuit because the organizations couldn’t show they’d been harmed by the company’s actions.


To have legal standing in federal court, a plaintiff must have suffered an injury caused by the defendant that can be remedied through litigation.


Seeborg found the plaintiffs in this case had incurred “ordinary program costs regardless of Sanderson’s advertising” by advocating against antibiotics in animal agriculture, which did not require them to “divert resources” to focus on chicken company’s alleged misrepresentations.


“Instead, the evidence confirms plaintiffs were simply going about their business as usual unaffected by Sanderson’s advertisements,” the judge said.


The Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety have challenged the decision before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where they argued the judge committed a “reversible error” by misapplying the law regarding the facts of this case.


“It’s about more than just a simple ad campaign. It’s about all the public statements it has made and is making,” said Paige Tomaselli, attorney for the plaintiffs, during oral arguments...


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