WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2016 – Hampton Creek, the San Francisco-based startup whose eggless Just Mayo product has been the source of controversy since it was first released nearly three years ago, is once again at the center of a food fight.
The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that includes a Hampton Creek co-founder as one of its advisers, is suing USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to gain access to documents about the American Egg Board’s alleged campaign against the company.
In a lawsuit that GFI filed Monday, Aug. 8, in federal court in Washington, D.C., the group is asking for information on the AEB’s revenue and spending, along with meeting minutes that might shed light on its previously revealed campaign to keep Hampton Creek products from consumers.
Joanne Ivy resigned as AEB’s chief executive officer at the end of September 2015 – reportedly earlier than planned – after the release of emails in which she is said to have told a consultant that she would “like to accept your offer to make that phone call to keep Just Mayo off Whole Foods shelves.”
“One email exchange among (AEB) officials even discussed putting ‘a hit’ out on Hampton Creek’s founder, (Josh Tetrick),” the lawsuit says. “While this exchange was likely a tasteless attempt at humor, it suggests a troubling operational philosophy that demonstrates the need for transparency in the activities of these federal programs.”
AMS’s response to GFI’s Freedom of Information Act requests has been inadequate, the GFI complaint says.
“AMS claimed that it was ‘proactively disclos[ing] the majority of all responsive records that were available at the time to all individuals who sought these records,’” the lawsuit says. “But AMS also noted that it was not disclosing other records because they ‘pertain to a current open investigation related to these records.’”
AMS had said last fall that it was conducting an administrative review of AEB activities after Ivy’s efforts became public.
News of the lawsuit broke at about the same time as the publication of a Bloomberg News article that said Hampton Creek engaged in an “undercover project to buy up its own vegan mayo.”
Tetrick and other Hampton Creek officials said the main purpose of the purchases by company contractors was to check the quality of the mayo.
But according to Bloomberg, “Melanie Myers, an executive who worked in the company’s corporate partnerships team, says in a statement that the program was primarily for quality-control purposes but ‘we also thought it might give us a little momentum out of the gate.’”
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