Four class action lawsuits launched in the last month seek millions in compensation for false advertising
A month after a video appeared online of the alleged calf abuse at Fair Oaks dairy farm in Indiana, it’s had 8 million views.
There have been daily protests since by animal rights activists in front of fairlife’s Chicago headquarters. fairlife was buying some of milk from Fair Oaks, with the two companies having some shared ownership.
On July 10th a large protest about the issue was held in New York City.
Combined with these continual protests are four class action lawsuits launched in the last month, seeking millions in compensation for false advertising. Each lawsuit has its own set of lawyers, suing differing combinations of the players involved. The lawsuits are against Fair Oaks, the individual owners, Mike and Sue McCloskey, Coca Cola, and the dairy processor, fairlife.
A class action lawsuit encompasses far more than the individuals involved, with each of them being filed “on behalf” of a wide swath of consumers seeking compensation for the fairlife products they bought within a specific period of time. One, for example, asks for financial compensation for every citizen of Illinois that would have purchased a fairlife product.
The class action suits filed are Alain Michael versus fairlife and Mike and Sue McCloskey; Andrew Swartz and Alice Vitiello versus fairlife; Eliana Salzhareer versus Coca Cola and fairlife; Mohammed Sabeehullah and Nabil Khan versus fairlife and Mike and Sue McCloskey.
The suit launched by Swartz and Vitiello, for example, is seeking $5 million, based on fairlife purchases they and others made between August and November 2018.
At issue with them, and others, was the advertising on the fairlife cartons of milk, stating that they provided “extraordinary care and comfort for our cows.”
This lawsuit filing also detailed quotes from the company and McCloskey’s in past years stating, “we believe great care for our cows results in great quality milk. It’s a win/win for everyone.”
The court filing detailed another website posting stating, “nothing is as important to us as the health and wellbeing of our animals.”
“Had Swartz known of fairlife’s deeply misleading practices he would not have bought fairlife’s products, or he would have paid less for them,” stated the court documents. The same claim is made for Vitiello.
The lawsuit noted that the company charged a 100 per cent mark-up over its competition for its products containing 50 per cent more protein, 30 per cent more calcium and 50 per cent less sugar than regular milk, plus the claim of great care for animals.
The lawsuit also noted that fairlife had known of the alleged abuse for a number of months, but “took no action or investigation of its own until the abuse was made public.”
The lawsuit claims that with Fair Oaks’ vast swath of milking operations, plus the 30 mega farms supplying fairlife, “it is impossible to number the amount of calves and cows that have, in herd, died at the hands of the company.”
It quotes the company itself which stated in the past that only one farm per year, out of the 30 supplying fairlife, were subject to an internal audit.
Ed Winters, a prominent animal rights activist, was quoted on July 10 in Sentient Media that these lawsuits and protests have legs and ramifications for the industry, since, with over 500,000 on-farm visitors per year, “Fair Oaks Farm is considered the best of the best. Well, then, the best clearly isn’t good enough.”
He also criticized the fairlife defence that they had stopped getting milk from the Fair Oaks farm.
“You can’t drop a supplier you own.”
Winters countered the criticism from the dairy side that the on-farm activist should have stepped forward to prevent this abuse, rather than merely filming it. “A journalist’s job is to raise awareness of an issue,” similar to filming, rather than fighting in an armed conflict, he said.
Attorney Ryan Kaiser, not involved in the case, was quoted in a Food Navigator USA article that with the lawsuits “there would seem to be a good case for liability.”
“Key issues” were, “the exact wording of the advertising claims, the number of suppliers in fairlife’s supply chain, and the steps fairlife took to monitor its vendors.”
Key to it all was the steps that fairlife took to, “ensure the wellbeing of animals in their supply chains,” said Kaiser.
fairlife has an operating plant in Michigan, plus are presently building a $200-million plant in Phoenix, Arizona and an $85-million plant in Peterborough, Ontario, both slated for completion in 2020. Temporary import permits into Canada for their products have been issued, until the plant is built.
About a dozen major American retailers have dropped its products after the video was released.