WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has launched a class-action lawsuit against Perdue Farms, Inc. over labeling claims on the company's Harvestland branch chickens. Perdue characterized the lawsuit as an attempt by the animal rights organization to discredit the company's Poultry Welfare program.

HSUS alleges that the labels violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) by claiming the chickens are humanely raised. The lawsuit alleges that the "humanely raised" and "USDA Process Verified" labels mislead consumers by implying that the USDA has verified the birds were raised humanely. A federal court in New Jersey recently denied Perdue’s motions to dismiss the case, allowing the lawsuit to proceed. HSUS is seeking a jury trial and damages for class members, in addition to injunctive relief.

"Companies such as Perdue are exploiting the dramatic growth of consumer demand for products that meet higher animal welfare standards," Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation said in a statement. "Slapping 'humanely raised' stickers on the same old factory farmed products is not going to cut it with either consumers or the courts." 

Perdue stood by its labeling claims and said the company is planning a vigorous defense.

“Contrary to the image HSUS attempts to portray, all of our chickens and turkeys are raised under a strict USDA Process Verified Program that ensures adherence to our Poultry Welfare Program from hatchery to processing,” the company said in a statement. “This includes numerous, documented checks and audits at every step in the process.

“All of our chickens and turkeys are raised cage-free on family farms. They live in temperature-controlled housing with fresh-air ventilation, where they are protected from disease, predators and the elements. They have constant access to food and water, room to move about and exhibit natural behaviors, and cycles of light and dark to ensure resting periods,” the company added.

In February, a federal judge in Baltimore, Md. ruled in favor of Perdue and a contract poultry grower in a case against the Waterkeeper Alliance.

The organization sued the company and Hudson Farm in Berlin, Md., on allegations that chicken manure from Hudson Farm was polluting local waters that ultimately flow to the Chesapeake Bay. The group argued that Perdue Farms also should be liable for the pollution. Perdue is seeking to recoup $2.5 million in legal fees.