DC Court Revives Animal Welfare “Natural” Lawsuit
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has revived a case filed in 2016 by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) accusing Hormel Foods of falsely advertising lunch meats and bacon as a “Natural Choice.” The court’s decision to reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings has already been described by animal rights activists as a “watershed ruling for consumer protection of all types.”
In the original lawsuit, the ALDF argued that Hormel’s national advertising campaign “Make the Natural Choice” was false and misleading because “there is nothing natural about the way Hormel’s Natural Choice products are produced.” The ALDF alleged that reasonable consumers would expect meat products labeled as “natural” to “be derived from animals who were provided access to the outdoors, were given opportunities to graze or forage,” and not fed artificial growth hormones.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court and determined that the ALDF does have standing to bring the case and that federal labeling laws do not preempt ALDF’s claims, which only focus on Hormel’s advertisements, and not the labels themselves. According to the court, although the USDA may have approved the Natural Choice product labels, that does not mean that “whatever claims pass USDA scrutiny for labeling purposes are necessarily fair game to broadcast in all manner of advertisements.”
The court’s ruling means the case may now move forward on procedural grounds, but the court has not yet ruled on the merits of the case. Keller and Heckman will continue to monitor and report on any developments.