Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. has dropped the claim that the milk for its ice cream comes from “happy” cows.
The word that the cows may not be contented comes in the company’s response to a federal consumer fraud lawsuit. That case, filed in October, alleges the Vermont ice cream maker misleads the public about how its farms treat their animals and protect the environment.
The company filed a motion to dismiss the case this week in federal court.
“The phrase ‘happy cows’ has already been removed from the packaging,” the motion said. “The cartoon cows remain [on the packaging] but … they did not look happy to begin with.”
“The cartoon cows remain [on the packaging] but … they did not look happy to begin with.” — Ben & Jerry’s legal motion
Activist Michael Colby and his group Regeneration Vermont has been pressuring Ben & Jerry’s to use its influence to change farming practices in Vermont. He said there’s both good news and bad news in the Ben & Jerry’s decision.
“We applaud their honesty, and it’s a great victory for them to remove what we believe to be misleading information from their packaging,” Colby said.
“That’s certainly a retreat,” he added. “But the bad news is, it’s a retreat to basically admitting that they can’t make claims about where their dairy is coming from and that they are still heavily involved in industrial agriculture practices, GMO corn, pesticides, antibiotics for the cows, and confinement for these cows.”
“It’s a retreat to basically admitting that they can’t make claims about where their dairy is coming from and that they are still heavily involved in industrial agriculture practices, GMO corn, pesticides, antibiotics for the cows, and confinement for these cows.” — Michael Colby, activist
A Ben & Jerry’s spokeswoman said the company rewards farms under its “Caring Dairy” program, if they agree to follow strong animal welfare and environmental standards.
“While we haven’t done an official survey of our cows’ happiness, we’re proud of the work we’ve done with Vermont’s family farmers over the past 35 years,” spokeswoman Laura Peterson said in a statement. “And we believe our Caring Dairy program is the most progressive in the industry. We’re committed to building a resilient, regenerative dairy supply that benefits animals, people, and the planet.”
The motion to dismiss, however, said the company’s claims about happy cows was “puffery” and did not need to be substantiated:
“As an initial matter, ‘happy cows’ is non-actionable puffery because it is a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact. Happiness cannot be measured objectively, and [the plaintiff] could not take a cow’s deposition to ask how it feels.”
“‘Happy cows’ is non-actionable puffery because it is a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact.” — Ben & Jerry’s legal motion
And, the lawyers added in a footnote, maybe people just like the ice cream but don’t buy the company’s alleged social values.
“Many consumers buy the ice cream simply because they like the taste and the flavors, not because of the company’s position on social and environmental issues, “ the motion said.
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