Animal Protection Nonprofits File Amicus Brief in False-Advertising Lawsuit Against Hormel Foods

Today, three animal-protection nonprofits—Animal Equality, Compassion Over Killing, and The Humane League—filed an amicus curiae brief (“friend of the court” brief) in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in support of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s false-advertising lawsuit against Hormel Foods. The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued Hormel in 2016 under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act, alleging the company is misleading consumers through the advertising of its Natural Choice® brand of lunch meats and bacon. The lower court dismissed the case, which is now on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the Animal Legal Defense Fund argues Hormel’s “Natural Choice” marketing campaign leads customers to incorrectly believe that the animals from whom the products are derived are treated humanely, when that is far from the truth. Animal Equality, Compassion Over Killing, and The Humane League argue in their amicus brief that such false advertising prevents customers from acting upon their preference for humanely produced products, which in turn directly undermines the animal-protection groups’ goal of promoting the rights and humane treatment of animals.

“Surveys demonstrate that representations about animal welfare materially affect consumers’ purchasing decisions,” explains Sarah Hanneken, legal counsel for Animal Equality. “For this reason, animal-protection groups have embraced consumer protection work as an important strategic objective.”

In their brief, Animal Equality, Compassion Over Killing, and The Humane League explain why the lower court was wrong in holding the Animal Legal Defense Fund could not pursue its claim. Specifically, the lower court determined Animal Legal Defense Fund could not bring a consumer protection claim since, as an animal-protection organization, it operates to promote the interests “of the consumed” as opposed to the interests of consumers. The amicus brief pushes back against this misunderstanding of the organizations’ work, explaining how the interests of consumers and “the consumed” overlap in significant ways when it comes to truthful advertising.

The amicus brief explains how consumer education furthers the groups’ animal-protective missions because consumer demand can drive industry behavior, which in turn can result in meaningful changes for animals. For this reason, the brief asserts, “When a company such as Hormel claims that its practices are more humane than those of other producers, animal-protection organizations must expend additional resources showing that the company’s actual practices are no different from the cruelty standard in the industry. By falsely attempting to differentiate themselves by making baseless claims about the nature of their products, companies directly stymie animal protection groups’ efforts to educate consumers.”

According to the brief, misleading claims like Hormel’s require groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, Compassion Over Killing, and The Humane League to expend additional resources on investigations and corrective campaigns in order to counteract the inaccurate impressions such claims instill in consumers.