WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2016 – A USDA review of the American Egg Board’s activities found instances of “inappropriate conduct” on the part of AEB officials, but stops short of accusing them of violating the law governing the checkoff.

The investigation was triggered in October 2015 after complaints of AEB misconduct relating to an eggless mayonnaise made by Hampton Creek Inc. called “Just Mayo.” The investigation looked into nine separate allegations raised by Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick, but in a memo, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service said the report “did not find evidence to substantiate all nine allegations” against AEB. The results of the investigation were first reported by Politico’s Morning Agriculture.

One of the allegations involved AEB employees and an alternate board member exchanging emails specifically about Tetrick, including references to potentially pooling money to “put a hit on him” and having “old buddies from Brooklyn pay him a visit.” The AEB officials admitted the comments were “made in jest” but were nonetheless inappropriate and have apologized to Tetrick.

AMS also found that “inappropriate discussions” about attempting to block sales of “Just Mayo” never led to corresponding action. AMS could find no documentation to show AEB paid bloggers to discredit Hampton Creek, another of the allegations, or that AEB had lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to “go after” Tetrick for product-labeling issues.

The review did find pop-up ads developed by AEB to be outside of AMS guidelines. AMS staff had approved the content of the advertising – a common practice for checkoff marketing – but AEB did not disclose that the messages were going to be targeted at terms related to Hampton Creek products and search terms. The ads were removed from the internet prior to the initiation of the AMS review.

In a statement, AEB Chairman Blair Van Zetten said that AEB “has received the USDA report addressing allegations made by Hampton Creek against AEB. There were no findings of violation of (the law that created the egg checkoff). AEB has cooperated fully and has no further comment at this time."

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In addition to “Just Mayo,” Hampton Creek, based in San Francisco, also produces “Just Cookie Dough” and “Just Cookies.” Its website boasts that Hampton Creek is “the fastest-growing food company on earth” based on the philosophy that “the right thing, for our bodies and for the world should be affordable” and “unthinkably, mouthwateringly delicious.”

A spokesperson for Hampton Creek did not respond to an Agri-Pulse request for comment.

Hampton Creek apparently has its own ethical challenges. In September, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that the company secretly sent out squads of so-called “Creekers” to purchase large quantities of Just Mayo from Whole Foods and Safeway stores, ostensibly to make the brand look popular with consumers – and to investors. Hampton Creek said the “buybacks” were for quality control. 
AEB works to increase demand for eggs and egg products through research and promotion. It is funded by an assessment, or checkoff, on egg production from companies with more than 75,000 hens.
(This story was updated at 1:45 p.m. to add reference to Bloomberg Businessweek story.)


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