Cases

Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Hormel

Public Justice, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Richman Law Group filed a joint lawsuit in the District of Columbia Superior Court against Hormel Foods, alleging the company is misleading consumers through the advertising of its Natural Choice® brand of lunch meats and bacon. Contrary to Hormel’s branding campaign, the suit alleges, meats the company advertises as “natural” actually comes from animals raised in the worst factory farms that employ additives, hormones and antibiotics, and contain ingredients that constitute artificial preservatives. With the slogan “Make the Natural Choice®” and repeated claims that its Natural Choice® products are “100% Natural” and “All-Natural,” Hormel Foods has run a wide-ranging advertising campaign that takes advantage of consumers’ beliefs that “natural” meat comes from animals raised in a specific, sustainable way. According to a 2015 Consumer Reports survey, half of consumers believe the “natural” designation means animals were raised outdoors. Hormel’s Natural Choice® products, in contrast, are not from more humane or more natural farms, but come from the same industrialized factory farms as any of Hormel’s other products.

Beef Checkoff Case (R-CALF USA v. Perdue)

We are lead counsel on behalf of the nation’s largest organization of independent cattle producers, R-CALF USA, in a suit raising a First Amendment challenge to the administration of the beef checkoff in Montana. We are arguing that although the federal government mandates all ranchers pay a $1 tax on each head of cattle to promote beef consumption, the government has failed to properly regulate how that money has been spent. In Montana, the government has turned over 50 cents of each $1 collected to the private Montana Beef Council, which has worked with a multinational corporation to promote their interests over those of independent ranchers. For example, the Montana Beef Council has used the checkoff money to advertise for the fast-food chain Wendy’s, which does not commit to buying meat from Montana or even United States ranchers. Thus we argue that checkoff is a form of compelled speech. We won an injunction against the collection of checkoff funds in Montana on those grounds, which was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2018. Now we are asking for a halt to checkoff funds in Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and Wisconsin as well. In a supplemental pleading filed in August 2018, we wrote “R-CALF members, including those in Montana, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Wisconsin, object to being required to turn over their hard-earned money to fund private speech with which they disagree and cannot influence.”

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Blackwood v. N&M Dairy

N&M Dairy was a multi-thousand cow dairy that the dumped millions of gallons of waste produced annually in surrounding open fields and earthen lagoons. The government and N&M Dairy consultants themselves warned N&M that its actions were killing crops and poisoning groundwater. Toxic nitrates seeped into nearby drinking water, and large volumes of toxic waste remain in the soil underneath the now-closed dairy. During N&M’s operation, it also produced swarms of flies and horrendous odors that made the lives of community members unbearable, rending them unable to use their yards or conduct other daily activities. We sued under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to force N&M to clean up the water and soil. In addition, we are using state tort laws to recover damages for the plaintiffs. We survived a motion to dismiss and briefed a motion for summary judgement. In March 2017, the parties resolved the claims out of court in a way that was satisfactory for both parties and with no admission of liability.

Center for Biological Diversity v. Swift Beef

Public Justice represented the Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch in a lawsuit against JBS-Swift Beef Company to stop illegal discharges of slaughterhouse pollution into Colorado’s South Platte River. The Lone Tree Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greeley receives up to 4 million gallons of wastewater each year from two slaughterhouses along the Front Range near the confluence of the South Platte and Cache la Poudre Rivers. For years the plant has been violating its Clean Water Act pollution discharge permit by discharging waste that violates toxicity standards into the Lone Tree Creek, a tributary of the South Platte River. The Lone Tree Plant receives wastewater from lamb and beef slaughterhouses that slaughter between 5,500 and 8,500 animals each day. The waste products generated by the plants include animal fat, blood, meat, dangerous bacteria, ammonia and excrement. The beef plant also processes and preserves animal hides, creating waste loaded with salt. These pollutants can harm human health and kill fish and other aquatic life. The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of any pollutant from “point sources,” like the slaughterhouses’ wastewater treatment plant, into waterways unless allowed by a permit. Permit violations are enforceable under the Act’s citizen suit provision. The suit seeks an injunction prohibiting JBS-Swift Beef Company from continuing to violate the terms of the Lone Tree Plant’s Clean Water Act permit and requiring that the companies take all necessary measures to prevent future violations.

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Country-of-Origin Labeling (R-CALF USA v. Perdue)

Public Justice served as lead counsel representing the nation’s largest organization of independent cattle producers, R-CALF USA, and the Cattle Producers of Washington, in a suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The suit alleged that USDA regulations enacted in 2016 that allow beef and pork to be classified as “domestic products” even when those meat products are slaughtered in other countries, confused consumers and harmed American farmers. We argued that the USDA regulations violate the text of the Meat Inspection Act, which requires that beef raised and butchered in other countries and then imported into the U.S. should include labeling that indicates its country of origin. From 2009 to 2016, the USDA enforced rules following this requirement, but then reverted to previous regulations that classify imported beef and pork as domestic goods. This not only results in consumers receiving deceptive and confusing information, but directly harms domestic beef and pork producers who are now forced to compete with millions of pounds of imported meat deceptively labeled as American products.

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Dakota Rural Action v. USDA

A coalition of groups representing family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates and concerned citizens throughout the country filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture. The suit aims to stop a USDA policy allowing industrial agriculture facilities to set up operations in communities without undergoing any review of their impact on local families or providing any notice of their planned operations to neighbors in the impacted areas. The USDA’s rule change, adopted in 2016 by its Farm Service Agency, grants exemptions from the usual process of notice, comment and oversight in cases where the government is providing taxpayer-subsidized loans to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) considered “medium-sized” by the USDA. Such facilities are authorized to hold nearly 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 700 dairy cows. By failing to review the financing for these facilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Trump Administration has helped cloak their planned operations in secrecy, preventing rural communities from obtaining information regarding the impact of these operations on local air and water quality. In so doing, the Administration promotes factory farms over family farms. The lawsuit alleges that both the rulemaking process, and the final rule now being implemented by the Trump Administration, violate NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide adequate notice of the proposed rule change and refusing to clarify why medium-sized CAFOs should be provided this special treatment and automatically exempt. Between the rule’s implementation in August 2016 and December 2017, the government allowed 40 such operations in four Arkansas counties alone with no public comment or environmental assessment. During the same time frame, eight such operations in Iowa, housing nearly 20,000 pigs and generating as much untreated sewage as a town of 200,000 residents, were also allowed to escape any assessment or comment period. Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Irritated Residents, Citizens Action Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Food & Water Watch are represented by ALDF, Public Justice, and Food & Water Watch. Dakota Rural Action and White River Waterkeeper are represented by Public Justice and Food & Water Watch.

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Fact Sheets

Find documents and resources produced by the Public Justice Food Project, as well as other organizations fighting for communities negatively impacted by industrial animal agriculture.

Idaho Ag-Gag

In recent years, more and more state legislatures have – at the urging of lobbyists representing factory farm operations and industrial food producers – taken up “Ag Gag” laws that shroud mega-farms in secrecy and make holding them accountable for pollution, unsafe working conditions and animal abuse difficult, if not impossible. At Public Justice, we believe everyone has the right to know where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the health and environmental ramifications of factory farming. We also believe tax payers have a right to know if, and how, public lands such as national parks are being polluted in illegal and destructive ways. That’s why our Food Project has led the way in challenging these laws in court. Working with a coalition of groups, we helped secure the very first court decision declaring an Ag Gag law unconstitutional. Idaho’s statute made it crime for employees to go undercover at a factory farm and report violations taking place at those facilities. The district court agreed with our argument that the state’s law blatantly violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state has appealed our victory, and we are helping defend the decision before the Ninth Circuit.  The argument to uphold this first-of-its-kind win will be on May 12th in Seattle.

Indiana Right to Farm

Like many other states, Indiana has a “Right-to-Farm” statute, meant to codify the coming to the nuisance doctrine—so city-dwellers cannot move to rural lands and demand farms change their operations. Corporate agribusiness has, however, been pushing efforts to expand the scope of these laws to almost completely remove neighbors’ remedies from factory farm misconduct. In an extremely unfortunate decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals interpreted its Right-to-Farm statute in a grossly expansive way, which would prevent a variety of tort remedies beyond nuisance, and allow huge concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFOs”) to proliferate, harming their farming neighbors. In fact, the panel of the Court of Appeals held that because people raised “hogs” in 1941 without them being a nuisance, any hog operation—including the 8,000 head, entirely confined CAFO opened by Defendants—can take advantage of the Right to Farm law. We focus on how CAFOs are new creations that no one could have anticipated in 1941. Moreover, the risks they pose to the surrounding community have only been established in the past two decades. Further still, in providing CAFOs an unnecessarily expansive Right to Farm defense, the Court of Appeal actually injures rural communities, as CAFOs are controlled by corporations that have no ties to or interest in the community and often drive smaller farms out of business.

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Iowa Public Trust Doctrine (Iowa CCI & FWW v. State of Iowa)

The Public Justice Food Project, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa claiming that the state has violated its obligation to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans. This obligation is called the Public Trust Doctrine, which requires the state to protect the public’s use and not abdicate control to private interests. With well-documented water pollution and only voluntary agricultural pollution controls, our suit alleges that the state is failing to uphold its duty. This lawsuit is a response to Iowa’s failed leadership, which has allowed the agribusiness industry to degrade Iowa’s waterways, leaving citizens with the burden of pollution and the cost of cleanup efforts. The suit seeks actionable, mandatory solutions that will restore the Raccoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water. The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water.  

Morris v. Tyson

The Public Justice Food Project represents a mass action of poultry growers in Western Kentucky who raise poultry for Tyson, the nation’s largest poultry company. Tyson acts as an “integrator,” controlling all of the inputs used by its poultry growers—such as the birds, feed, and medical care—as well as the processing facilities and contracts for sale. Our clients, like all of Tyson’s growers, essentially act as sharecroppers for Tyson, unable to control their own destiny and being paid under an unfair system. We allege that both this system and Tyson’s abuse of it violate state law and the federal Packers and Stockyards Act. In particular, we allege that Tyson possesses anti-competitive power and has used that power to manipulate growers’ outputs and income.

Mountaire

“For years, I’ve been trying to figure out what was the cause of my son dying of an asthma attack. They’re saying it’s going to cost millions and millions and millions of dollars to fix the problem. . . . They let it go on for too long.”
That’s how our client, Gina Burton, described the situation at the Mountaire chicken processing plant in Millsboro, Delaware — a facility that produces 2.4 million gallons of waste every day. That waste — made up of manure, feathers, carcasses, organs, blood and massive amounts of wastewater — is eventually sprayed onto nearby fields. Groundwater monitoring has shown serious contamination of the surrounding community’s water supply. Along with community members and Food & Water Watch, we submitted a notice of intent to sue to Mountaire, demanding they clean up their practices and investigate, assess, and remediate the extent of their pollution.

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North Carolina Ag-Gag / PETA et al v. Stein (formerly Cooper) et al.

Public Justice is lead counsel on behalf of a coalition of public interest groups in a constitutional challenge to North Carolina’s “Anti-Sunshine” law—a statute that, like Ag-Gag laws, allows employers and property owners to sue undercover investigators who wish to blow the whistle on unethical or illegal activities in the workplace. Under the law, organizations and journalists who conduct undercover investigations, and individuals who expose improper or criminal conduct by North Carolina employers, are susceptible to suit and substantial damages if they make such evidence available to the public or the press.  The law’s text and legislative history confirm that the statute’s primary objective is to stop undercover investigations by what the legislature termed “private special-interest organizations,” particularly those focused on animal agriculture and food health and safety. The Plaintiffs group consists of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Farm Sanctuary, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Farm Forward, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The New York Times has published an editorial endorsing the challenge.

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Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms

In this consumer class action, the plaintiffs alleged that Herb Thyme Farms, Inc. deliberately mixed organic herbs with non-organic herbs and sold them to the public as “100% organic.” Herb Thyme argued that the consumers’ state law claims were preempted by federal law governing certification of organic products. Herb Thyme Farms had one small farm which is certified as an organic farm. (While the federal and state regulations are somewhat complex, suffice it to say for these purposes that this little farm was considered organic under both California and federal law.) Then, Herb Thyme also has a number of very large farms which are conventional, which is to say not organic. Herb Thyme took the herbs grown at its organic farm and mixed them together in buckets with herbs grown at its conventional farms. It then sold these as “100% organic.” So, while some small proportion of the herbs in any given consumer’s purchase will have been organic, under no circumstance would someone think that a few organic items mixed in with a ton of 100% NON organic items was “100% organic.” On December 3, 2015, the California Supreme Court issued the first appellate decision in the country to reject federal preemption under the Organic Food Production Act, allowing a class action to continue to press the rights of consumers who were tricked into paying organic premiums for conventional products. In a rare unanimous decision, the high court held that consumer protection lawsuits seeking to hold organic growers liable under state law for lying about the contents of their products were not prohibited by federal law. Read more about the landmark ruling here.

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Utah Ag-gag (Animal Legal Defense Fund v Herbert)

Amici brief in constitutional challenge to a Utah statute that criminalizes core whistleblowing activity in the farmed animal agricultural industry—in particular, slaughterhouses, meat processing plants, and factory farms. The law at issue—enacted by the state of Utah in 2012—makes it a crime to “interfere” with any agricultural operation or facility by virtue of taking photographs or recordings of the operation without the owner’s consent. That prohibition—colloquially known as an “Ag-gag” statute—criminalizes what has been, since the turn of the twentieth century, the key vehicle for exposing inhumane, unsafe, and illegal conditions in the industrial agriculture system. A similar law is on the books in over a dozen other states. Ag-gag laws such as Utah’s pose a serious threat to public health and safety. Over the last few years, a number of major federal recalls of meat, poultry, and dairy products were prompted by undercover investigations launched by whistleblowers from the public interest community. These recalls helped stem the outbreak of diseases that have killed and injured thousands of unsuspecting consumers. Laws like Utah’s are expressly designed to block such investigations in order to prevent the public – and federal and state government’s – from knowing about unsafe conditions inside animal factories.

Western Watershed Project et al v. Peter Michael

This case is a federal constitutional challenge to two newly enacted Wyoming statutes (the “Data Laws”) that are designed to prevent the public from gathering “resource data” on public or private “open land” in the State of Wyoming. See W.S. 6-3-414 (criminal statute) and W.S. 40-26-1-1 (civil statute). These laws are close cousin to the so-called “ag-gag” laws that have been proposed or enacted in a dozen states in recent years. Public Justice is currently challenging Idaho’s and North Carolina’s Ag-Gag law on constitutional grounds and serves as amicus in a challenge to Utah’s Ag-Gag law. In Wyoming’s case, the Data Laws were enacted for the explicit purpose of preventing an Idaho nonprofit and one of our clients, the Western Watersheds Project (WWP), from collecting water samples designed to prove that overgrazing of the land by the cattle industry is polluting the water supply. Public Justice is also representing the National Press Photographers Association as the Wyoming’s law would also prevent journalists from accessing and recording information on public and private lands. The case was dismissed by the District Court in 2016, but we won a unanimous reversal and remand from the 10th Circuit, which ruled in September 2017 that “collection of resource data constitutes the protected creation of speech.” In October 2018, the District court struck down the Data Laws, concluding Wyoming had “no plausible reasons for the specific curtailment of speech … beyond a clear attempt to punish individuals for engaging in protected speech that at least some find unpleasant.” Public Justice attorney David Muraskin called the ruling “a sweeping victory for the First Amendment.” Public Justice is serving as lead counsel for the group of Plaintiffs, which also includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Center for Food Safety, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Yakima Valley Dairy Cases

In October 2012, the Center for Food Safety and the Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) — both represented by Public Justice — warned four major Yakima Valley (Wash.) factory farms that they would take them to federal court unless the farms stopped contaminating local drinking water supplies with runoff from their dairy operations and begin to make amends for the damage they have already caused. Ultimately, the Yakima Valley dairy cases resulted in a landmark settlement announced in May 2015. As part of the settlement, four Washington State dairies agreed to implement sweeping changes in their operations following a series of lawsuits. The dairies had been contaminating local water supplies in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington community, dumping millions of gallons of manure that was stored in unlined lagoons onto crop fields. The manure contaminated the soil and aquifer below. Under the terms of the settlement, the dairies must now provide clean drinking water to Yakima valley residents with polluted water. The dairies also agreed to drastically change their operations in ways intended to stop future contamination to the area’s water supply. Each dairy must now install double liners in all manure lagoons to stop leakage, limit manure applications to crop fields, and make other operational changes. They are also now subject to additional groundwater monitoring. The settlement followed a January 2015 ruling finding, for the first time, that manure from livestock facilities should be regulated as solid waste. In that ruling, the Court held that the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which governs the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, applied to animal waste from such facilities, too.

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