LOS ANGELESKroger Co., the giant supermarket chain, has misrepresented that chickens are raised "cage-free in a humane environment", a proposed class-action lawsuit alleges.
The deceptive and misleading representations violate California consumer protection laws, depriving consumers of "their intended benefit when they purchase premium-based Simple Truth brand chicken" that is available at retail stores across the United States, according to the Feb. 11 complaint.
According to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, "Simple Truth" chicken can be traced to a Perdue Farms processing facility in Kentucky that submerges birds into electrified water and shakes them upside-down by their legs. The lawsuit also alleged that the chickens suffer from heart problems, painful deformities in their bones and lameness.
The named plaintiff alleged that chickens are treated the same as other mass-produced birds.
According to the lawsuit, Perdue follows chicken practices that are based on National Chicken Council guidelines that "endorse and justify a system of mechanized brutality that routinely inflicts intense duress and pain on chickens".
Tom Super, a National Chicken Council (NCC) spokesman, said the guidelines "offer the most up-to-date, science-based recommendations for the proper treatment and humane care of broiler chickensthose chickens raised for meat."
"The top priority of American chicken farmers and processors is to raise healthy chickenshealthy chickens make safe and wholesome food," he added. "Not only is it an ethical obligation, but it is simply not sustainable for farmers to mistreat animalsit costs more to grow stressed animals to market weight and lowers the quality of the meat."
But the lawsuit cited practices at Perdue that NCC's guidelines allegedly permit, including shackling birds by their legs, upside-down, while the animals are conscious. Studies indicate this practice is painful for the birds and exacerbated by bone and leg joint abnormalities that the chickens suffer, it said.
The complaint also claimed that Kroger's chickens are electronically shocked, which can lead to paralysis, seizures and cardiac arrest while the birds are still conscious. NCC's guidelines also allow this practice, the lawsuit said.
Compassion Over Killing, a non-profit animal advocacy organization, filed the complaint along with two class-action law firms, Audet & Partners LLP and Tycko & Zavareei LLP.
Representatives of Kroger and Perdue did not immediately respond today to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
According to Compassion Over Killing, the Simple Truth brand helped boost Kroger's growth in fiscal year 2012.
With fiscal 2012 sales of $96.8 billion, Kroger Co. operates more than 2,600 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 34 states and the District of Columbia under such brand names as Dillons, Fred Meyer and King Soopers. Kroger last month completed its acquisition of Matthews, N.C.-based Harris Teeter Supermarkets, Inc., which posted revenues of $4.7 billion in fiscal year 2013.