A proposed class action alleges Red Lobster has deceptively marketed and sold its Maine lobster and shrimp as sustainably sourced despite the fact that the products may come from suppliers who use “environmentally harmful and inhumane practices.”
The 36-page lawsuit claims the sustainability representations on Red Lobster’s menu—including statements such as “Seafood with Standards” and “Traceable. Sustainable. Responsible”—are false and misleading given the restaurant’s Maine lobster products are sourced from suppliers whose practices threaten endangered North Atlantic right whale populations. Moreover, the complaint alleges Red Lobster’s shrimp products are sourced from industrial shrimp farms that “do not employ the highest environmental or animal welfare standards.”
According to the case, filed in California against Red Lobster Management LLC; Red Lobster Seafood Co., LLC; Red Lobster Restaurants LLC; and Red Lobster Hospitality LLC, the restaurant chain has sold more Maine lobster and shrimp products, and at higher prices, than it otherwise would have absent its deceptive representations about the nature and sourcing of the shellfish.
The lawsuit argues that consumers who view Red Lobster’s sustainability claims will inaccurately conclude that the restaurant’s lobster and shrimp are sourced “in accordance with the highest environmental and animal welfare standards.”
Contrary to diners’ expectations, Red Lobster, the case says, sources its lobster products from the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery, a supplier that the complaint relays has come under fire for failing to uphold sustainability standards. According to the suit, a U.S. district court found in April 2020 that the inadequate regulation of the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery violated the Endangered Species Act, and that the fishery “had the potential to harm the North Atlantic right whale at more than three times the sustainable rate.”
Following the court’s decision, the Marine Stewardship Council in August 2020 suspended the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery’s sustainability certification, the case says. The Gulf of Maine, according to the suit, is considered by the National Marine Fisheries Service to be a Category I fishery—i.e., one determined to cause “frequent mortality and serious injury of marine mammals”—due to the frequency of injuries to North Atlantic right whales caused by lobster gear.
The lawsuit goes on to claim that Red Lobster’s shrimp products are sourced from suppliers in Indonesia, Vietnam, India and China, where shrimp farming “utilizes unsustainable and inhumane high-density industrial farming methods to increase production.” According to the complaint, shrimp farms in areas from which Red Lobster sources its products frequently rely on antibiotics to prevent rampant disease outbreaks and wreak havoc on the environment in the process.
“The combination of organic waste, chemicals, and antibiotics from shrimp farms like these contaminate groundwater, in turn significantly reducing the size and diversity of fish populations that the ecosystems can support,” the complaint reads. “The use of harmful chemical contaminants is especially prevalent in the regions from which Red Lobster sources shrimp for the Shrimp Products.”
The case further contests that shrimp farm expansion in Southeast Asia is a major contributor to the destruction of mangroves, which promote biodiversity, protect coastal areas from storms and erosion and “provide substantial carbon sequestration.”
Per the suit, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch has concluded that shrimp products from Indonesia, Vietnam, India and China should “generally be avoided” due to harmful environmental impacts and the overuse of antibiotics. Moreover, shrimp farms in these four countries, the case says, perform eyestalk ablation, “an unnecessary and inhumane practice” whereby the eyestalk gland of the female shrimp is destroyed without painkillers to increase production, and whose poor water quality standards leave shrimp “struggle[ing] to breathe.”
The lawsuit alleges that in light of the foregoing, Red Lobster’s sustainability representations are “false, deceptive, and misleading” and likely to deceive reasonable consumers into paying more for products they believe are sourced in accordance with the highest sustainability and animal welfare standards. Per the suit, Red Lobster has “profited enormously” from its allegedly misleading advertising practices.
The case looks to represent anyone who purchased Red Lobster’s Maine lobster or shrimp products in California within the applicable statute of limitations and until the date of class certification.
The complaint says the affected products include, but are not limited to, Red Lobster’s Live Maine Lobster; Maine Lobster Tail; Steak-And-Lobster; Ultimate Surf & Turf; Lobster Lover’s Dream; Ultimate Feast; Lobster, Shrimp And Salmon; Bar Harbor Lobster Bake; Lobster Linguini; Lobster Bisque; Petite Maine Lobster Tail; Lobster And Langostino Pizza; Seaside Shrimp Trio; Admiral’s Feast; Ultimate Feast; Baja Shrimp Bowl; Classic Caesar Salad With Seasoned Shrimp; Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp; Crispy Shrimp; Today’s Catch; Walt’s Favorite Shrimp; Garlic Shrimp Skewers; Shrimp Linguini Alfredo; Garlic-Grilled Shrimp; Popcorn Shrimp; Garlic Shrimp Scampi; and Signature Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.
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