Austin-based Whole Foods Market Inc. likely hasn’t been served with the notice it is being sued; it will likely choose its words carefully when it does respond.
That’s because the complaint against Whole Foods is mostly about words.
“This consumer fraud action concerns Whole Foods’ material misrepresentations and omissions about the use of antibiotics in the beef it sells,” according to the plaintiffs’ filing. “Whole Foods markets its beef with the slogan, ‘No Antibiotics, Ever’ and reinforces this promotional message that its beef is antibiotic-free with other similar representations at retail stores, online marketing, and product packaging.”
A Portland, OR-based organization campaigning against “factory farms” is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Whole Foods. “Farm Forward” claims that “independent testing.” has turned up antibiotic and other pharmaceutical “residue,” making false the Whole Foods claims that it sells only antibiotic-free beef.
According to the complaint, the “No Antibiotics, Ever” sloganeering allows Whole Foods to charge premium prices for its beef, ripping off consumers.
“Consumers overpaid for and were economically harmed as a result of Whole Foods’ misleading promotion of its Beef Products,” it says. “Whole Foods charges — and consumers pay — a substantial price premium for beef products based on the claim that the cattle that become these Products were not given any antibiotics.
“For instance, Whole Foods charges $31.99 per pound for beef tenderloin steak filet mignon. A traditional retailer charges only $24.99 per pound for the same cut of beef. Thus, Whole Foods marks up the price of this Beef Product by 28 percent in connection with its antibiotic-free representations.
“Consumer Plaintiffs would not have purchased beef products, or would not have paid the prices they did, had they had known the truth that cattle used in the products were raised with antibiotics.”
Individual plaintiffs are Sara Safari, Peymon Khaghani, and Jason Rose, Whole Foods customers from Orange County, CA. The complaint seeks certification as a Class Action filing and requests a jury trial.
While primarily out for economic compensation, the complaint does raise an important food safety issue.
“Administering routine or subtherapeutic antibiotics to farmed animals creates serious health risks,” the complaint says. “It contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals — bacteria that consumers of the meat eventually ingest. Once in the human system, these bacteria can cause infections that cannot be treated with existing antibiotics because the bacteria are antibiotic-resistant.”
The civil action is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It was assigned to the Court’s Southern Division.
Plaintiffs want an injunction requiring Whole Foods to correct and clarify its “past and ongoing misrepresentations and omissions” and to remove the misrepresentations or, in the alternative, to ensure that Whole Foods’ beef products conform with how it markets them.
The complaint says Whole Foods has used the “No Antibiotics, Ever” slogan since 2002. Numerous other allegations and several causes of action claims are made in the complaint. Whole Foods gets 21 days after it is served to file its initial response.
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