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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Cage-Free, in That Industrial Shed

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Judy's Family Farm Eggs advertises chickens raised "free of cages," but the birds actually dwell in "barren industrial sheds," a class claims in court.

The ruse is all in the packaging, lead plaintiff Camilla Glover says in Alameda County Superior Court.

Petaluma Egg Farm, which produces and markets Judy's Family Farm Eggs, allegedly leads consumers to believe that its chicks and hens roam free "in a bucolic environment that is reminiscent of days gone by."

One version of the packaging states that "the hens that produce these eggs are raised free of cages and can 'run, scratch and play' in the fresh air of Sonoma Valley," according to the complaint. The packaging also allegedly says that the hens have "access to the outdoors and enjoy large communal areas with natural ventilation and sunlight."

In reality, however, the animals actually spend their lives in "modern, barren industrial sheds with no grassy fields and no outdoor access," the complaint states.

Petaluma Egg Farm, owned by Steven Mahrt, has engaged in a "classic form of unfair competition" as well as fraud, Glover says.

Mahrt knows that consumers will pay a higher price for "cage-free" or organic eggs, and markets his product accordingly, without bearing the additional cost associated with a truly cage-free environment, according to the complaint.

When the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act was on the ballot as Proposition 2, Mahrt allegedly told the San Francisco Chronicle why he opposed the measure.

Mahrt said he would need "four to five times more land" if the proposition passed, which would "kill my business," according to the article, quoted in the complaint.

Glover says she bought Judy's Family Farm Eggs at Safeway and Lucky's grocery stores in various Northern California East Bay locations over a two-year period. The El Cerrito woman says she would not have paid a premium price for Judy's eggs if she had known that the "free of cages" claim was misleading.

Glover seeks restitution and punitive damages for unfair competition, false advertising and violation of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

Petaluma Egg Farm produces eggs under the brand Judy's Family Farm as well as Uncle Eddie's Cage Free Eggs and Rock Island Fertile Brown Eggs. The brand also produces eggs for Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand and Organic Valley for regional distribution.

Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Christopher Berry, of Cotati, Calif., represents the class, along with the firm Fazio Micheletti in San Ramon, Calif.

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