A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit over alleged false advertising of "natural" chicken.

A federal appeals court will not allow environmental and food safety groups to resurrect a lawsuit that accused a major poultry producer of falsely advertising its chicken as “natural.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an earlier ruling that determined Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety lacked legal standing to pursue the case in federal court.

The nonprofit organizations had filed a complaint accusing Sanderson Farms, a Mississippi-based chicken company, of promoting its meat as “100% natural” despite raising birds in “cramped, overcrowded conditions” with “synthetic pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics.”

However, a federal judge in California dismissed the lawsuit in 2019 because the plaintiffs hadn’t demonstrated they’d suffered an injury that could be rectified through legal action.

To have standing in court, the plaintiffs would have to show they’d diverted resources away from their ordinary “watchdog work” to combat the poultry company’s advertisements.

The 9th Circuit has now ruled the groups failed to do so, since they simply continued “business as usual” by advocating against routine antibiotic use in meat production.

The nonprofits didn’t specifically target Sanderson’s advertising with any action alerts, press releases or other communications, the ruling said.

Emails among employees of the organizations, in which they discuss the company and its advertising, don’t fill this “evidentiary void,” according to the 9th Circuit.

Their claim that a staff member spent 25% more time on antibiotics work, detracting from time spent on federal policy, amounted to a “single conclusory, contradictory and uncorroborated statement” that the earlier ruling permissibly regarded as “suspect,” the 9th Circuit said.

During oral arguments last year, the nonprofit groups argued that they didn’t have to specifically mention Sanderson’s advertising campaign to divert more resources toward antibiotics advocacy.

“The appellants spent additional time and additional resources on this work in order to counteract the effects of Sanderson’s statements,” said Paige Tomaselli, their attorney.

Michael Glick, attorney for Sanderson, said the groups made a “few stray references” to the chicken company but these didn’t amount to more than “business as usual” in their advocacy work.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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