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Source: The Cornucopia Institute news release

The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ADLF) filed a class-action lawsuit, on Oct. 1, alleging that packaging used for Judy's Eggs mistakenly leads consumers to believe the eggs come from free-range hens.

The Cornucopia Institute had previously filed a formal legal complaint (pending) with the USDA regarding alleged violations of federal organic regulations by Petaluma Farms and the organic eggs they market as Judy's Eggs. They also produce and package eggs for the Organic Valley brand.

"We hope this new legal action will be a wake-up call for the Obama USDA and that they will now aggressively enforce the law, protecting ethical organic farmers from competitive injury and consumers from fraudulent exploitation," said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute.

The Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group with over 7,000 members, is thought to represent more certified organic farmers, including organic egg producers, than any other nonprofit in the nation.

"We will not tolerate ethical organic family farmers being placed at a competitive disadvantage because they are following the law," affirmed Kastel.

Organic standards state that organic livestock producers must "establish and maintain living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species" [emphasis added].

Lacking enforcement action by the USDA Cornucopia's organic egg scorecard rates companies that market name-brand and private-label organic "shell" eggs based on 22 criteria that are important to organic consumers. "The scorecard is designed to create marketplace pressure rewarding the heroes in the organic farming movement and enabling consumers and wholesale buyers to make discerning purchasing decisions in the marketplace" Kastel added.

Evidence gathered by The Cornucopia Institute, including photos and satellite imagery, indicates that the laying hens at Petaluma's industrial-scale facility are confined indoors to their barns. The owner of Petaluma, Steve Mahrt, has confirmed in media interviews that his birds are managed in confinement. Although in conflict with federal law, he's quoted as saying, "What I'm doing is what I think is the safest system for our consumers and for our hens."

In a similar consumer fraud class action, in early September, Aurora Organic Dairy paid $7.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit regarding fraudulent marketing claims concerning organic milk. In that matter, during the Bush administration, although the USDA found 14 serious violations of the organic standards, and career civil servants at the agency recommended decertification, political appointees allowed Aurora to continue in business with modifications to their operations and a one-year probation.

"Although lobbyists and campaign contributions can have a discernible impact in Washington they obviously cannot buy off dedicated organic consumers, and their independent lawyers," Kastel lamented. "With both Aurora and Petaluma we are seeing that there is a higher authority in this country than the USDA-and that's loyal and passionate families that buy organic food."

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