The Economy & Business
6:00 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Lawsuit Questions Truth Of Kroger's "Simple Truth" Chicken Labels

A chicken farm. Chickens advertised as "cage free" may still be kept in cramped warehouses.
A chicken farm. Chickens advertised as "cage free" may still be kept in cramped warehouses.
Credit jlastras / Wikimedia Commons

 A California-based lawsuit against Kroger could become a class action including shoppers in Ohio. The dispute is over truth in packaging for Kroger’s line of chicken products known as Simple Truth chicken. Simple Truth is on Kroger shelves in green-themed packaging that says the chicken is cage-free and raised in a humane environment.

“We believe this lawsuit will reveal that ordinary consumers do not consider Kroger’s actual chicken treatment practices to be consistent with its humane claims,” says Lisa Winebarger is a lawyer for Compassion Over Killing and is representing the plaintiff in the suit, Anna Ortega.

 

Cage-free is the first issue that’s not so simple: The chickens, which are raised by Perdue Farms in Kentucky, are cage-free because they’re kept indoors in crowded warehouses, like almost all chickens raised for meat. The warehouses can be dark, and badly ventilated. Perdue doesn't use hormones or antibiotics on chickens that aren't sick, but the lawyers argue that has become fairly standard and doesn't constitute especially humane treatment of the animals. The the case also claims the chickens at Perdue are transported and slaughtered in damaging and painful ways similar to other factory farms.

Kroger, however, asserts the Perdue chickens are better monitored and cared for than most warehoused chickens.

“This complaint falsely asserts there’s no difference between the practices used by our supplier, which is Perdue, and the standard practices used throughout the industry,” says Kroger spokesman Keith Dailey. Dailey adds that the chickens are 100 percent vegetarian-fed.

 

Kroger also sells a Simple "Truth Organic" line, and generally organic labels require a federally-regulated certification process.

"Natural" or "humanely-raised" meat is not subject to a comparable standard. Although there are humane meat certification programs, there’s not a legal certification process to evaluate whether one chicken is more humanely-raised than the next cut of meat on the shelf. The lawsuit claims Simple Truth sells for 41 percent more, on average, than other meat that is likely raised under similar conditions but does not have a label claiming it is raised humanely.

The case, filed in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, is Anna Ortega v. The Kroger Co., No. BC536034. If a judge approves a class action against Kroger, Ohio shoppers could eventually become eligible to join.