WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2017 – A federal appeals court has rejected a lawsuit seeking labels on egg cartons that would describe the way hens are raised.

The Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission and USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and Agricultural Marketing Service each denied petitions submitted by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Compassion Over Killing. The groups want labels on egg cartons that would say “Free-Range Eggs,” “Cage-Free Eggs,” or “Eggs from Caged Hens.”

Neither FSIS nor AMS has authority to require such labeling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said in its opinion. Because the wording on egg cartons sought by the animal rights groups concern only shell eggs, their proposals “fall outside of the FSIS’s labeling jurisdiction under the (Egg Products Inspection Act),” the court said.

“The EPIA expressly distinguishes between the terms ‘egg products’ and ‘egg,’ and grants broad authority to FSIS to regulate the labeling only of ‘egg products,’” the court said.

In addition, AMS “correctly concluded that it lacks the authority to promulgate mandatory labeling requirements for shell eggs” under the Agricultural Marketing Act, the court said.

For its part, FTC “explained that, based on the information plaintiffs provided in the petition, it could not conclude that current egg-labeling practices were either ‘unfair or deceptive,’” the court said.

FDA’s explanation for denying the groups’ petition contained just enough of an explanation to survive legal review, the court said.

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“The FDA could have better addressed plaintiffs’ evidence of misleading representations that appear on egg cartons to demonstrate that the agency fully appreciated one of the primary bases for plaintiffs’ rulemaking petition – that information concerning egg-laying hens’ living conditions is necessary in order to correct the affirmative representations that frequently appear on egg labels and convey misleading information,” the court said.

However, the agency’s letter denying the petition shows that it “did consider plaintiffs’ evidence of affirmative misrepresentations that appear on egg labels but ultimately decided that individual enforcement actions would be preferable to promulgating the proposed regulations.”

Compassion over Killing general counsel Cheryl Leahy said the group was disappointed by the decision, but added: “We don’t think this is an issue that will go away any time soon. Consumers care about the way egg-laying hens are treated.”

In announcing its petition to FDA in September 2010, CoK and ALDF said “phrases such as ‘animal-friendly,’ as well as images of happy hens roaming around outside can be used indiscriminately on egg cartons, even when those eggs are produced by birds confined inside wire battery cages so restrictive that they can’t perform many of their most natural behaviors, including nesting, perching, spreading their wings, and even walking.”



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