Officially, Big Food is not worried about the small number of "fringe" food activists who object to cruel, unhealthful and environmentally destructive products. But unofficially, it is a different story. American Egg Board CEO Joanne Ivy stepped down in apparent disgrace last month when a 2013 email she wrote to a consultant saying the board was accepting "your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves," was revealed. Just Mayo is an egg-free and vegan product from San Francisco start-up Hampton Creek. Whole Foods still sells it.
Why is Ivy's attempt to quash competition reason to step down? As a USDA commodity "checkoff" program, the egg board is a quasi-government agency not supposed to be playing dirty retail tricks.
US egg producers themselves have also been caught playing dirty tricks. To block growing public outrage over the profit-driven cruel practices of debeaking and forced molting of chickens, United Egg Producers (the trade group that represents 85 percent of US egg producers and 180 egg farms) rolled out an "Animal Care Certified" logo ten years ago to assure consumers that its members' eggs were produced humanely.
The problem was--it wasn't true. In 2005, the Better Business Bureau ruled that the label was misleading, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) demanded that the label read not "Care Certified" but "United Egg Producers Certified," clarifying that there was no third party certification involved. United Egg Producers was also fined $100,000 and made to sign an agreement with attorneys general in sixteen states to settle the false advertising claims.
Two years later, USDA forbid food giant Tyson from using the claim that its chickens were "Raised without Antibiotics," because the ionophores it uses in chicken production are a type of antibiotic, albeit not one used by humans. Even as Tyson backpedaled into the more accurate slogan--"Raised without antibiotics that impact antibiotic resistance in humans"--the USDA found Tyson using the human antibiotic gentamicin behind the public's back. Not only was the use deceptive, gentamicin is a controversial drug linked to liver toxicity and destruction of the balance system in humans.
When asked about the disclosure, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson admitted that eggs were vaccinated with gentamicin before the birth of a chicken, but he rejected "any statement suggesting our products are anything less than safe and wholesome," reported the Associated Press.
Statements from the dairy industry including its checkoff arm are also misleading. In addition to claiming milk helps fight breast cancer (right) the Fluid Milk Board told Congress a few years ago it was promoting milk to address "the high incidence of high blood pressure among African Americans." It said being lactose-intolerant was no reason to abstain from milk and even called milk a diet food which drew it government censure. In 2007, the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection directed milk promoters to stop the weight-loss claims "until further research provides stronger, more conclusive evidence of an association between dairy consumption and weight loss."