Eggs with “Superior Nutrition” from “Humanely” Caged Hens Packaged in “Environmentally-Friendly” Polystyrene?

Organic Consumers Association Sues Eggland’s Best Over Misleading Claims

March 26, 2024  |  by Alexis Baden-Mayer
Organic Consumers Association

Organic Consumers Association and Richman Law & Policy filed a complaint against Eggland’s Best on Thursday, March 14 in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The complaint alleges that Eggland’s Best, in violation of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act, deceptively markets its “Classic Eggs” with claims concerning packaging recyclability, animal welfare, and nutritional superiority. 

Eggland’s Best, the complaint alleges, misleads consumers by marketing its eggs as:

  • Coming from caged hens that are “always handled … humanely” and have space “adequate for normal function and behavior.”
  • Delivered “in the most environment-friendly way” in polystyrene cartons that are “recyclable” and accepted by “more and more communities . . . in their recycling programs.”
  • Providing “Superior Nutrition” including that the eggs contain fewer calories, and less cholesterol and total fat, than “ordinary eggs.”

Contrary to Eggland’s Best’s claims that its eggs are superior to “ordinary eggs” in environmental sustainability, animal welfare, and nutrition, Organic Consumers Association alleges that Eggland’s Best eggs are:

  • Produced by hens raised in cages that are not adequate for normal function or behavior; 
  • Packaged in polystyrene that is not “environmentally friendly” or generally recyclable; and 
  • Not nutritionally superior to other eggs. 

To view the complaint, follow this link. A summary of the facts, as outlined in the complaint, is below.

If you don’t appreciate Eggland’s Best’s misleading claims about its eggs, let them know by commenting on their posts on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Eggland’s Best eggs are packaged in polystyrene that is not “environmentally friendly” or generally recyclable.

Eggland’s Best’s website contains a bold “SUSTAINABILITY” header and states that it pledges to deliver its eggs to consumers “in the most environment-friendly way.”

Eggland’s Best states that it chose to package its eggs in polystyrene because its polystyrene foam cartons are “recyclable” and “more and more communities are accepting this packaging in their recycling programs.”

These recyclability and sustainability representations are misleading.

Most curbside recycling programs in the United States do not accept polystyrene materials or have the capability to recycle them.

When sent to a landfill, polystyrene can take 500 years to decompose and can leach chemicals into the surrounding environment.

The District of Columbia, where we filed our complaint, and many states, including Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont have banned the sale and distribution of polystyrene foam entirely, or in certain circumstances.

Specifically, the District of Columbia prohibits any “food service entity [from] . . .sell[ing] or provid[ing] food in expanded polystyrene food service products, regardless of where the food will be consumed.”

The District of Columbia similarly prohibits any “retailer [from] sell[ing] or offer[ing] for sale an expanded polystyrene food service product, expanded polystyrene container, or expanded polystyrene packing material.”

In the District of Columbia, polystyrene foam is not accepted for recycling.

The Federal Trade Commission’s (“FTC”) Green Guides state that “[m]arketers should clearly and prominently qualify recyclable claims to the extent necessary to avoid deception about the availability of recycling programs and collection sites to consumers.” Specifically, when recycling isn’t widely available where the item is sold, “marketers should qualify all recycling claims.”

Eggland’s Best’s use of the terms “sustainability” and “recyclable” and its representation that it delivers its eggs “in the most-environment friendly way” are misleading because they create the general impression for reasonable consumers that the packaging offers environmental benefits that it does not have.

Eggland’s Best’s environmental and recyclability representations about its packaging are material to consumers who care about making environmentally conscious purchasing decisions and who believe that they can lessen their environmental impact by recycling the packaging.

A 2021 Amcor survey of 12,000 consumers across six countries, including United States consumers, found that 78% of consumers want to recycle more and find recyclability to be the “most important sustainability attribute for packaging.”

A 2020 McKinsey survey of United States consumers found that “43 percent of consumers . . . say environmental impact is an extremely or very important packaging characteristic when making purchasing decisions.”

That same McKinsey survey found that most consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, and four-to-seven percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium well above ten percent.

That same McKinsey survey found that “[m]ost consumers do not have a strong understanding of which packaging types are more sustainable.”

A survey of 9,000 consumers across North America, South America, and Europe published in 2023 found that the majority of consumers look for information about recyclability or sustainability on product packaging. The same survey also found that 79% of consumers are looking for products in sustainable packaging and 82% are likely to purchase a product based on recyclable packaging claims.

Eggland’s Best’s marketing misrepresents the recyclability of their eggs’ packaging and misleads consumers.

Eggland’s Best eggs are produced by hens raised in cages that are not adequate for normal function or behavior.

Eggland’s Best claims that its caged hens:

  • “are healthy and have sufficient space, light, ventilation, water, and feed

and are protected from injury”;

  • “are always handled and transported humanely”; and
  • live “in cages . . . adequate for normal function and behavior.”

As our complaint states, contrary to Eggland’s Best’s marketing, egg-laying hens raised in conventional caged systems are only allocated, on average, 67 square inches per bird. By comparison, a standard sheet of printer paper is over 90 square inches.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (“AVMA”) states that “many natural behaviors cannot be performed in conventionally sized [] cages.” While the AVMA defines a conventional cage as a “wire enclosure housing 3 to 6 birds,” producers commonly exceed this stocking density, such that “in commercial production . . . birds are commonly housed at the density of 7 to 8 birds per cage.”

The AVMA has determined that conventional cages restrict hens’ ability to express their natural behavior, including restricting dust bathing, walking, foraging, roosting, and nesting.

Similarly, the AVMA has found that caged hens are unable to perform “comfort behaviors,” such as wing flapping, stretching, body shakes, and tail wagging. Natural behaviors like nesting and roosting are impossible in caged housing.

Because egg-laying hens raised in battery cages are unable to express their natural behaviors, they often perform repetitive, stress-induced behaviors instead, like feather plucking, pecking at other chickens, and “vacuum nesting” where a hen will “mime” making a nest.

Moreover, according to the AVMA, cages increase the risk of hens getting trapped between wires and developing excessive foot damage resulting from overgrown claws.

Similarly, because battery cages commonly have mesh flooring, which places excess pressure on hens’ feet, caged hens are prone to developing toe pad hyperkeratosis, a painful condition which causes lesions.

Hens raised in battery cages are so intensely confined that they are unable to exercise adequately, making them particularly prone to developing osteoporosis. This problem is so widespread that one study found that, at the end of a laying cycle, 24% of all birds removed from their cages suffered from broken bones.

In conventional cages, hens have no outdoor access, which increases stress and reduces activity. In contrast, hens who enjoy outdoor access suffer less feather damage and footpad dermatitis, and have a better digestive and gut function than that of hens kept indoors.

Commonly used confinement practices in the egg industry cause poor animal welfare and restrict basic movement and expression of natural behaviors in hens, which can induce high levels of stress in the animals. As a result of extreme confinement, hens experience musculoskeletal weaknesses, chronic diseases such as fatty liver, metabolic diseases, and spinal compression.

Diseases such as salmonella infection consistently spread at higher rates among caged hens.

Caged hens are prone to disease outbreaks due to flock size and higher density of hens, and factors such as the volume of fecal dust, presence of disease-carrying rodents, the difficulty of properly disinfecting cages, the inability of hens to acquire natural gut flora in wire cages, and the physiological stress due to confinement. Chronic or prolonged stress has been found to inhibit animals’ immune response to infection, can increase disease spread, and can impair the immune system.

Eggland’s Best’s claims that its battery cages provide sufficient space for hens to exhibit normal function and behavior directly contradict the growing scientific consensus concerning the detrimental welfare impacts on hens kept and raised in such conditions of extreme confinement.

The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation of Turner Egg Farm in Maine, which is owned by Eggland’s Best supplier Hillendale Farms, which revealed hens that routinely suffer from disease, injury, pain, and distress, are not handled “humanely,” and cannot exhibit natural behaviors.

The Humane Society’s undercover investigator documented hens (1) “confined in cages packed so tightly, the animals couldn’t spread their wings”; (2) “forced to share their cages with the decaying carcasses of their dead cage-mates”; (3) “found trapped by their necks, wings, and feet in the rusty wire cages”; (4) “covered in other birds’ waste”; and with (5) “bloody prolapses” and “horrendous facial abnormalities.” 

The investigator observed “high ammonia saturation” in the hens’ barns. 

Images included in the complaint depict some of the hens as seen by the investigator, which reveal the filthy and cramped conditions in which the hens were living, as well as hens that are trapped and otherwise suffering from prolapses and injuries within their cages.

The egg-laying hens who lay eggs for Eggland’s Best are regularly subjected to inhumane conditions and routinely suffer from disease, injury, pain, and distress. Eggland’s Best misrepresents the treatment of its egg-laying hens on its website.

A 2021 survey of 4,292 consumers from across fourteen countries, including consumers from the United States, found that those consumers are increasingly concerned about animal welfare and improved treatment and conditions for farmed animals, including that of egg-laying hens.

That survey found “that most participants across all countries eat eggs, most state that it matters to them that hens do not suffer in the process of producing the eggs they eat, and importantly, a majority of participants in most countries . . . would prefer . . . to purchase eggs from hens not kept in cages.”

A 2018 survey of 1,000 United States consumers found that the large majority of respondents are concerned with the welfare of animals raised for food, including egg-laying hens, and that the welfare of these animals is important when making purchasing decisions.

A 2015 survey conducted by Consumer Reports found that 84% of consumers say that “providing better living conditions for animals” is a key objective when shopping for food.

Consumers are increasingly concerned about whether chickens raised for food are treated, handled, and raised humanely.

A survey conducted by the National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, found that 46.8% of consumers value animal welfare when deciding to purchase chicken products. 

Globally, consumers are concerned about the moral implications of animal production systems on farm animal welfare and have increasingly demanded ethical production and refused to purchase products that do not meet their animal welfare concerns.

Eggland’s Best’s marketing of its eggs—which suggests to consumers that its classic eggs come from hens that are raised in conditions that allow for them to exhibit “normal function and behavior” and that Eggland’s Best’s egg-laying hens receive “the best care possible”—misrepresents material facts which have the tendency to mislead consumers.

Eggland’s Best’s eggs are not nutritionally superior to other eggs. 

Eggland’s Best falsely represents its eggs as nutritionally superior to ordinary eggs. On every package and on its website, Eggland’s Best states that its eggs contain “25% Less Saturated Fat than Regular Eggs.” 

Eggland’s Best claims that the eggs provide “superior nutrition,” indicated by a “Superior Nutrition” header on the website. Eggland’s Best also makes specific claims regarding the nutritional superiority of Eggland’s Best’s eggs as compared to other eggs and provides a chart asserting that, when compared side-by-side, the eggs provide “better nutrition” than “ordinary” (i.e., non-Eggland’s Best-branded) eggs.

Eggland’s Best’s claims of nutritional superiority include claims that (1) their eggs contain 60 calories per egg, compared to 70 calories per “ordinary” egg; (2) their eggs contain 170 milligrams of cholesterol, compared to 185 milligrams per “ordinary” egg; (3) their eggs contain 4 grams of fat per egg, compared to 5 grams per “ordinary” egg; and (4) their eggs contain 1 gram of saturated fat, compared to 1.5 grams per “ordinary” egg.

Eggland’s Best’s nutrition representations are misleading to consumers.

Contrary to Eggland’s Best’s on-label and online representations, their eggs do not in fact contain “25% less saturated fat,” fewer calories, less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than other eggs, and are therefore not “nutritionally superior” to ordinary eggs, as these claims are understood by reasonable consumers.

Independent investigations have found that Eggland’s Best eggs do not contain fewer calories or less total fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol than other eggs, and are therefore not “nutritionally superior.”

A 2016 Truth in Advertising investigation found that Eggland’s Best’s eggs contained the same nutritional value as “ordinary eggs” with regard to carbohydrates, trans fats, proteins, monosaturated fat, vitamin A, and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Recent independent laboratory testing of Eggland’s Best’s classic eggs commissioned by our lawyers and conducted by Anresco Laboratories in August 2023 found that Eggland’s Best’s nutritional claims as to calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol do not comport with the actual nutritional value. Specifically, that testing found that:

  • While Eggland’s Best states that their eggs contain 60 calories per serving, as compared to 70 calories in an ordinary egg, the independent laboratory study found approximately 68.13 calories per serving.
  • While Eggland’s Best states that their eggs have 4 grams of fat per serving, as compared to 5 grams in ordinary eggs, the independent laboratory study found 4.93 grams of fat per serving.
  • While Eggland’s Best states that their eggs have only 1 gram of saturated fat, as compared to 1.5 grams in ordinary eggs, the independent laboratory study found 2.84 grams of saturated fat per serving.
  • While Eggland’s Best states that their eggs contain 170 milligrams of cholesterol, as compared to 185 milligrams in ordinary eggs, the independent laboratory study found that their eggs have 205.49 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

Eggland’s Best has misrepresented that their eggs contain fewer calories and less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than ordinary eggs.

Eggland’s Best’s eggs are not actually “nutritionally superior.”

Eggland’s Best’s claims matter to D.C. consumers who care about purchasing foods with reduced calories, fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

A 2014 survey of 2,234 United States consumers found that 78% of Baby Boomers “considered the saturated fat content in a product as a very or somewhat important driver for their decision whether they purchase a product or not.”

A 2019 study reviewing eleven surveys polling more than 2,000 individuals found that nutritional and health claims on food packaging can make food products “seem healthier than they are” and such claims “can influence consumers’ perceptions.”

A 2020 study of 1,000 United States consumers found that 36% of consumers seek out “low fat” foods.

Eggland’s Best’s marketing of their eggs as containing fewer calories, and less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and as being “nutritionally superior”—which provides consumers with the impression that their eggs contain nutritional and health benefits over other eggs—misrepresents the facts and is misleading.

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