Tyson Foods has settled a consumer class-action lawsuit that targeted the company's chicken "Raised Without Antibiotics" claim.
The case originated in January 2008 when poultry competitors Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms sued Tyson alleging its raised-without-antibiotics labeling constituted false advertising. Six months later, Tyson withdrew the labels from its chicken. Consumer suits followed.
An agreement filed earlier this week with a U.S. District Court in Baltimore provides that individual consumers will receive as much as $50 each, according to Baltimore's Daily Record newspaper. It will cost Tyson $5 million; $600,000 of which will go to administrative fees, leaving $4.4 million for individuals who bought certain products between specified dates in 2007 and 2009.
A hearing to review the settlement is scheduled for Friday.
"Our Raised Without Antibiotics chicken initiative, which we started in 2007, was suspended in 2008 due to labeling challenges," notes Gary Mickelson, Tyson spokesperson. "While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on."
At issue were ionophores, a poultry feed additive that Tyson, Perdue and Sanderson Farms all use, and USDA classifies as an antibiotic. Because ionophores have not been shown to pose a significant risk to humans, Tyson wanted to advertise its chicken as being "without harmful antibiotics." In December 2007, USDA approved the longer, qualified phrase for marketing purposes, but Tyson's competitors files suit one month later.