A proposed class action claims Diestel Turkey Ranch has falsely represented that its turkeys are raised pursuant to the highest animal welfare standards on a family-run ranch that’s a far cry from a typical factory farm.
According to the 25-page case, consumers have instead paid a premium price for Diestel turkey products raised in conditions that include “overcrowding, illness, injury, pain, filth, excessive confinement, lack of enrichment, and premature death.”
Per the lawsuit, the defendant’s overall marketing scheme rests on misrepresentations meant to play on consumers’ preference for buying animal products not subject to industrial, inhumane conditions.
“Defendant exploits the growing consumer demand for non-factory farmed, humanely raised animal products through these misrepresentations, that are intended to induce consumers to pay significant premiums for Diestel’s Turkey Products that consumers reasonably believe come from turkeys that were ‘thoughtfully raised’ on the Diestel family’s Sonora Ranch,” the complaint alleges.
The case asserts that as a result of Diestel’s misleading advertising, consumers have paid more for the company’s products than they would have had they known the turkeys were raised at “agro-industrial” offsite facilities.
Among the misrepresentations the defendant includes on packaging, across its website, and in advertising are the claims that Diestel turkeys are “thoughtfully raised” on the “family farm” in Sonora, California; have “plenty of room to roam” and “fresh air”; and are “slow grown,” with Diestel employees “walk[ing] the flock each day,” the lawsuit says. On its website, the defendant promotes its so-called “Family-Run Sustainable Ranch” and encourages consumers to visit “our beautiful ranch in the Northern California foothills,” according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges, however, that turkeys used to make Diestel products are sent to the Sonora Ranch “only for slaughter and processing,” while some never make it to the ranch at all and are processed “far away from Sonora and outside California” after spending their lives in “deplorable conditions” at off-site facilities. The suit relays that Diestel admitted to government regulators in a 2013 California Regional Water Quality Control Board report that the “several hundred chickens and turkeys” at its ranch were raised for “non-commercial purposes,” while the commercial birds were raised off-site and delivered by truck to the ranch for processing.
The defendant’s off-site facilities, including an agro-industrial operation in Jamestown, California that was the subject of a 2015 Wall Street Journal and Washington Post undercover investigation, are “typical commercial poultry barns” that house up to 17,000 birds at a time, the case goes on. Instead of being “Thoughtfully Raised with plenty of fresh air and space to roam,” Diestel turkeys are, according to the lawsuit, “rarely, if ever” allowed outside and instead “live and defecate” in “over-crowded barns.”
“Upon information and belief, Defendant has allowed the turkeys outside the barns only for staged inspections,” the complaint says.
While Diestel represents that its turkeys are raised under “the highest animal-welfare standards,” an exposé published by animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere paints a very different picture, the lawsuit avers, with animals found “languishing or dead;” excessively confined; covered and sometimes “trapped” in feces; suffering from swollen-shut eyes, open wounds, and bruises; missing large patches of feathers as a result of pecking one another or de-feathering from stress; subject to debeaking; laboring to breathe; and subject to high mortality rates, with as many as seven percent of a barn’s birds dying in “a single week.”
According to the case, Diestel’s contracts with its growers are devoid of requirements for thoughtful raising “by any definition.” Though the defendant represents on its website that it adheres to Global Animal Partnership (GAP) animal welfare standards, less than one percent of Diestel’s turkeys match the GAP 5 rating advertised by the company, and some are not GAP rated at all, the suit charges.
The lawsuit goes on to challenge Diestel’s claims that its birds are “slow grown” on a “family-owned and operated” farm, arguing that the company slaughters its turkeys “at approximately the same time as the rest of the commercial turkey industry,” and employs 100 to 300 workers, only six of which are Diestel family members.
Moreover, although Diestel promises that its turkeys are given “no antibiotics,” the company’s veterinarian has prescribed antibiotics such as oxytetracycline and penicillin for “entire flocks,” and birds have been treated with chemicals before and after slaughter, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit charges that the defendant’s false and misleading representations “deceive and mislead” reasonable consumers into paying a premium price for Diestel turkey products, as the company has been able to charge as much as $9.99 per pound while turkeys from “typical agro-industrial facilities” sell for as little as $0.59 per pound, per the case.
The lawsuit looks to cover anyone in California who purchased one or more of the following Diestel Turkey Products on or after October 13, 2015:
Naturally Smoked Whole Turkey;
Naturally Oven Roasted Whole Turkey;
Organic Oven Roasted Whole Turkey;
Organic Heirloom Whole Turkey;
Organic Whole Turkey;
Low Sodium Oven Roasted Turkey Breast;
Organic Roasted Turkey Breast;
Organic Honey Roasted Turkey Breast;
Organic Pre-Sliced Smoked Turkey;
Organic Pre-Sliced Oven Roasted Turkey;
Diestel Non-GMO Project Verified Young Turkey;
Original Diestel Turkey;
Diestel Turkey Chorizo;
Fully Cooked Drums and Thighs;
Boneless Young Turkey Roast;
Heidi’s Hens Organic Breast Roast;
Diestel Ground Turkey;
Bone-In Breasts Young Turkey Breast; and
Brined Turkey Breast.
Alleged in the suit are violations of California’s Consumers Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, and Unfair Competition statute.
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