Sanderson Farms Inc. lost a motion to dismiss false advertising claims brought by three advocacy organizations when a California federal court ruled that the claims are not preempted by either the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) or the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA). Organic Consumers Ass’n v. Sanderson Farms Inc., No. 17-3592 (N.D. Cal., entered February 9, 2018). The groups alleged that Sanderson’s marketing materials—which asserted that the poultry was “100% Natural” with “no hidden ingredients” and that “100% natural means there’s only chicken in our chicken”—were misleading because of U.S. Department of Agriculture testing reportedly showing the presence of antibiotics, ketamine, pesticides and “other unnatural substance residues.”

The court found that consumer-protection laws “are within the historic police powers resting with the states and are therefore subject to the presumption against preemption … Consequently, they cannot be superseded by federal law or action unless it is the ‘clear and manifest purpose of Congress.’ Such purpose is not evident here. Neither the PPIA nor FMIA demonstrates express or implicit congressional intent to limit [such] legislation … in fact, the state and federal laws here are complementary.” In addition, the court found that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that a reasonable consumer could be deceived by the marketing materials.

The court also rejected Sanderson Farms’ argument that the groups lacked standing, finding all three had sufficiently alleged “frustration of its organizational mission” or “diversion of its resources” to establish injury in fact.

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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