Livestock Litigation: Ben & Jerry’s sued for their “happy cows” advertising

December 10, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

A class action lawsuit was filed in the US on October 31st 2019 alleging that Ben & Jerry’s have been misleading its consumers into believing that all of the milk and cream in their products is sourced from “happy cows” in Vermont dairies.

What does this mean?

The suit was filed by James Ehlers, an environmental advocate who argues that in reality “only a minority percentage of the milk and cream in the products actually is sourced from these ‘happy cows’”.

These “happy cows” are part of the “Caring Dairy” program whereby designated farmers treat their cows more humanely, measured by a variety of different standards. Ben & Jerry’s claim that the program improves the sustainability of agricultural practices on their farms.

What's the big picture effect?

Ehlers’ claim is based on two grounds. Firstly, he alleges that Ben & Jerry’s is misleading consumers, for whom ethical considerations take more precedence than in the past. Secondly, Ehlers contends that Unilever Plc (Ben & Jerry’s parent company) is circumventing Vermont protection law by unjustly enriching themselves. On the latter point, the image that the milk contained in the ice cream is from “happy cows” allows Unilever to charge higher prices for its ice cream pints.

Unfortunately, this is not the first occasion on which the company has had this complaint; in 2018 a near identical suit was filed and the judge rejected their motion to dismiss the suit.

The current case highlights a need for greater transparency and specificity in product labelling and marketing. This is especially vital in today’s society in which greater emphasis is placed on how animals are treated on farms. However, William C Acevedo, (a partner at law firm Wendel Rosen LLP) has argued that “maybe not every consumer purchased the product because of the challenged claim” and that consumers might not necessarily have thought all of the product was sourced from “happy cows”. 

Nevertheless, it does appear that because consumers are putting a greater focus on transparency and trust, companies will have to embrace greater specificity in their marketing, or there may be more suits like this to come.

Report written by Natasha Dawes

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