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In Court, 'Sustainable' Brands Argue That Marketing Claims Are Meaningless

For 42 years, Ben & Jerry’s claimed its ice cream came from “happy cows.” But when the claim was challenged in court, the company backpedaled, exposing an industry rife with false advertising.

Last month, Ben & Jerry’s revealed that it will no longer claim on its product packaging that its ice cream comes from “happy cows.” The company’s statement comes after being sued twice for deceiving consumers about its animal welfare policies.

At a time when consumers are increasingly looking at labels to see whether the conditions under which the animals were raised were humane or environmentally sustainable, Ben & Jerry’s retraction raises a troubling question: Do the companies slapping these labels on their products stand by their messages when challenged in court? In my experience, the answer to that question is usually no.

As a consumer protection lawyer, I have litigated false-advertising cases against some of the largest food companies in the world and against niche brands sold at high-end grocery stores. No two cases are the same, but there is one thing that almost every food company, when challenged, seems to assert: environmental and animal welfare claims, even if consumers rely on them, should be taken as meaningless.