Lawsuit Against Egg Company Alleges it Fraudulently Advertises Chickens as Free Range

Pete and Gerry’s Organics LLC, which distributes Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, was accused on Wednesday in the Southern District of New York of falsely claiming that its chickens are “free range” and given ideal living conditions, when they are instead treated very similarly to other farms and are not free range, according to the plaintiff, Constance Mogull. 

The packaging for eggs from Pete and Gerry’s Organics reportedly claims that they love and care for their hens. It depicts hens on grass with kids and claims that the company’s hens are outdoor forage hens. 

“Most hens don’t have it as good as Nellie’s. 9 out of 10 hens in the U.S. are kept in tiny cages at giant egg factories housing millions of birds. Sadly, even ‘cage-free’ is now being used to describe hens that are crowded into large, stacked cages on factory farms, who never see the sun. Nellie’s small family farms are all Certified Human Free-Range. Our hens can peck, perch, and play on plenty of green grass,” the defendant’s egg carton promotion claims. 

The plaintiff alleged in the putative class action complaint that this marketing led her to believe the hens were given space inside and outside, which made her willing to pay a higher price for the eggs. In some cases, Nellie’s eggs were priced twice as high as other eggs. The defendant’s website has a video further claiming that the hens are kept outdoors, showing Nellie’s hens spread out in a yard, which alleges that its hens are treated much better than “cage free” or “all natural” chickens.

The complaint alleged that this is not true, showing pictures of how the company, which supplies hens to Nellie’s, raises hens. Reportedly, instead of the care the advertising suggests, the hens are “crammed into sheds up to 20,000 at a time, preventing them from extending their wings, foraging, or making their way to the outdoor space Defendant advertises so prominently.” 

The complaint alleged that Nellie’s hens live in a very similar situation to hens that the defendant claimed in its video have a “grim existence.” It purported that the hens can only get outside after 1pm on a day with good weather through small hatches spread throughout the shed. 

“Because of this overcrowding and limited time that the hatches are open, many of Defendant’s hens are unable to ever access the hatches or the outdoor space Defendant advertises so prominently,” the complaint alleged. 

The plaintiff claimed that people buy free-range eggs because the hens are happier and healthier, in addition to the eggs tasting better and being more healthy. The plaintiff believes, however, that consumers purchasing Nellie’s eggs are unaware that this is not actually the case. The complaint cited a People for Ethical Treatment of Animals video on YouTube from 2018 showing reactions from consumers learning about Nellie’s alleged practices. The video showed multiple consumers who had purchased Nellie’s free range eggs saying that they would not buy them again. 

Wednesday’s complaint included claims of false advertising, deceptive acts or practices, breach of express warranty, and fraud. Mogull is represented by Bursor & Fisher P.A.