Walmart and Cal-Maine Foods, the largest producer and marketer of shell eggs in the U.S., are facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that the two parties lied to consumers about the treatment and condition of hens laying Walmart store-brand Organic Marketside eggs.
According to Hagens Berman, the law firm handling the case, consumers paid high prices for what they were told were eggs laid by hens that wee “free to roam, nest and perch in a protected barn with outdoor access.” However, the lawsuit states that Walmart and Cal-Maine knew the hens were housed in buildings with enclosed porches but were never able to touch the soil or vegetation surrounding the barns.
Hagens Berman noted that Walmart’s Marketside brand eggs sell for $2.98/doz., whereas its Organic Marketside eggs laid by hens with “outdoor access” sell for $3.97 – a third more.
The suit, filed Jan. 8, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeks reimbursement for consumers who paid high prices for Walmart’s Organic Marketside store-brand eggs, which were sold as being laid by hens with outdoor access. The suit also seeks an injunction from the court to force Walmart and Cal-Maine to end their “deceptive” marketing of Organic Marketside eggs.
“Walmart is the largest and most profitable retailer in the world, and it chose to knowingly scam those trying to do good with their purchasing power,” said Elaine Byszewski, a Hagens Berman partner. “We believe Walmart and Cal-Maine knew that, despite the promise of ‘outdoor access’ on the cartons of eggs they sold, the hens that laid their store-brand eggs were confined inside industrial barns.”
Attorneys’ investigations of a Cal-Maine egg farm in Chase, Kan., revealed that less than 1% of the flock located at the massive egg farm were able to even look outside. The location has the capacity to house 400,000 hens.
“Our investigators have seen these facilities firsthand,” Byszewski said. “Had consumers known the truth about what ‘outdoor access’ meant – stuck inside with no access to nearby pasture – they either would not have purchased them or would have paid less.”
She added, “Surely, this isn’t what consumers have in mind when they read ‘farm fresh,’ ‘free to roam’ and ‘outdoor access.’”
Hagens Berman further pointed out that studies have shown that consumers believe “outdoor access” means that a majority of animals have access to open pasture and vegetation at any given time throughout the day.
The class action adds that the majority of consumers (77%) have said they are concerned about the welfare of animals raised for food, including laying hens. In addition, “more than two-thirds (69%) of consumers pay some or a lot of attention to food labels regarding how the animal was raised." The suit says Walmart and Cal-Maine knew this and exploited consumers’ concerns.
In a statement to Feedstuffs, Walmart said, “We hold our suppliers to high standards and are committed to providing our customers the quality products they expect. We take this matter seriously. Once we have been served with the complaint and have reviewed the allegations, we will respond with the court.”
Cal-Maine Foods declined to comment.