While the USDA wavers on organic egg laws, consumers are taking matters into their own hands with a new lawsuit against the retail giant.
For a year, Pittsburg, California resident Donnie Lee Gibson regularly bought organic eggs at his East Bay Walmart store. At $3.97 a dozen, the Organic Marketside brand cost him about a dollar more than cage-free Marketside. The difference was that the organic label stated that the laying hens were raised “with outdoor access.” Like the growing number of eaters concerned about farm animal welfare, Gibson paid attention to the labels and chose to pay a premium for the organic eggs.
Only it wasn’t true, at least not in the way most of us would understand outdoor access. Produced for Walmart’s private label by Cal-Maine Foods in Chase, Kansas, the hens lived in industrial, multi-story barns with tiny portholes and long ramps to access enclosed porches. No soil or vegetation. No fresh air or sunshine.
On January 8, Gibson became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California, accusing Walmart and Cal-Maine Foods of fraud. “Consumers are being tricked into paying more based on the ‘outdoor access’ claim on the egg carton,” Gibson said through his attorney, Elaine Byszewski of the law firm Hagens Berman. She added, “The motivation of the lawsuit is to return to consumers the higher amount that they paid for the eggs and get defendants to stop their false advertising.”
As the world’s largest retailer, Walmart is a giant force in the organic foods boom, which is increasing by double digits annually, according to the Organic Trade Association(OTA). But a rash of fake organic food scandals has cast suspicion on the government’s organic seal. It has left eaters wondering exactly why they’re paying more for organic eggs that are essentially the same as cage-free.
Donnie Lee Gibson v. Walmart Stores signals a rebellion aimed at retailers and their suppliers for transparency.