WASHINGTON – The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) can pursue claims of false advertising against Hormel Foods Corp., the US Court of Appeals – DC Circuit ruled on Sept. 2. The latest ruling sends the lawsuit to trial.

The appeals court reversed a lower court ruling that the ALDF lacked standing to pursue the claims as required under the DC Consumer Protection Procedures Act (DCCPPA).

In its opinion, the court said, “The CPPA confers standing upon ‘public interest organization[s]’” bringing suit “on behalf of the interests of a consumer or a class of consumers,” so long as they have a “sufficient nexus” to “adequately represent those interests.” The court agreed that ALDF meets that statutory test.

The court also ruled that the ALDF’s claims are not preempted by federal meat and poultry labeling laws, because the federal laws address only labeling.

“…we conclude that federal labeling laws do not preempt ALDF’s claims, which attack only Hormel’s advertisements beyond its product labels (and not the labels themselves),” the court said. “We reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.”

“Today’s ruling not only affirms that this lawsuit to stop egregious false advertising by Hormel can continue, it will benefit consumers and the integrity of the market on a wide range of issues,” said Leah Nicholls, Public Justice senior attorney and counsel for the ALDF in the case. “The DC Court of Appeals rightly notes that any qualifying advocacy nonprofit can use the district’s consumer protection statutes to stop misleading advertising campaigns on behalf of the District’s citizens, even if the content of a product’s label is judged to be preempted by federal regulation.”

The ALDF, along with Public Justice and the Richman Law Group, sued Hormel Foods in June 2016 in Washington, DC, Superior Court, alleging the company is misleading consumers through the advertising of its Natural Choice brand of lunch meats and bacon because the pigs are treated inhumanely. ALDF sued Hormel following an undercover investigation into animal welfare abuses at a farm owned by Carlyle, Ill.-based The Maschhoffs, a leading pork producer and supplier to Hormel. 

Hormel denied any wrongdoing and defended the company’s labeling and advertising, and said its pigs are humanely raised and slaughtered. Hormel filed a motion to dismiss the case, but it was denied in 2017.