State Appeals Court Affirms That Foster Farms Chicken Can Display “Humane” Label

The California State Court of Appeals, Second District, ruled in favor of Foster Poultry Farm, Inc. on Tuesday, affirming the Superior Court of Los Angeles County decision, that Foster Poultry Farms can use the American Humane Association’s logo to say that its products are “American Humane Certified,” despite allegations that the company is not humane to its animals. 

According to the court’s opinion, in order to display American Humane’s trademark a company must comply with the association’s standards and pay a trademark licensing fee. Foster Farms reportedly participates in the program and places the logo on its products which are sold in California. 

Carol Leining, the plaintiff, reportedly paid more for Foster Farms chicken because it had the humane label causing her to believe the chicken had been humanely treated, however, she alleged that the certification does not have any meaning because “Foster Farms’s chickens were treated inhumanely.” The plaintiff filed her complaint as a putative class action matter in July 2015. 

The three California judges, however, ruled that the plaintiff did not plead a “viable cause of action” and that Leining’s claims are barred because they are preempted by federal law and there is no actual physical injury. 

In the opinion, the judges explained that the humane label does not mean, as the plaintiff assumed when purchasing the product, that the chicken is treated more humanely than chicken produced by the company’s competitors. “American Humane certifies chicken produced under the industry’s standard operating procedures, and the birds it certifies are treated no better than any other chicken farmed for food,” the filing stated. 

Reportedly, the Food Safety and Inspection Service updated its guidelines for humane treatment labels in December 2019, while this lawsuit was ongoing, to require that the label “describe what it means by humane” or provide the certifier’s website which would have that information. The Food Safety and Inspection Service, however, did not contain requirements for a company to the claim on its labels in the updated guidelines. 

Foster Poultry Farm is represented by Mayer Brown, the American Humane Association is represented by Duane Morris, and Carol Leining is represented by Nathan J. Winograd and Mark Edmonde Haddad.