Attorneys with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), are assisting consumers in filing a class action suit against Vital Farms, alleging that the brand’s eggs are not raised in a manner consistent with the company’s advertising.
The Austin, TX-based brand charges a premium price for its eggs—$7 or more for a dozen—which are produced from hens, according to the company’s website, that “enjoy at least 108 square feet of pasture, each with plenty of fresh air and sunshine year-round. This lifestyle gives the girls the freedom to forage through rotated pastures, feasting on a natural buffet of grasses daily.”
But PETA alleges that Vital Farms does not treat its animals in an ethical and humane manner. According to the website of the animal rights group, Vital Farms obtains hens from hatcheries that kill all male chicks at birth. Male chicks are killed at birth since they don’t produce eggs and hence can’t be exploited, PETA claims. In hatcheries from which Vital Farms obtains hens, male chicks are dropped alive from a conveyor belt into a grinder; this is an industry-standard way of disposing of them, says PETA.
PETA’s lawsuit alleges that Vital Farms supports the burning or cutting off of hens’ highly sensitive beaks, an industry-standard practice performed to prevent stressed, severely crowded, confined hens from pecking at each other. Furthermore, chickens raised at Vital Farms’ suppliers are kept in conditions that cause many of them to spend most or all their time indoors rather than in “pastures” as Vital Farms’ labeling would lead consumers to believe.
More points of contention in the lawsuit: the hens that Vital Farms acquires from hatcheries lay far more eggs than they naturally would. This practice places undue stress on their bodies, leading to health issues such as osteoporosis. Then, the hens are sold for slaughter (for meat) when they are 18 months old.
Despite all this, PETA says that Vital Farms “deceptively touts its ‘humane treatment of farm animals’ in every carton, alongside photos that misleadingly show hens free to roam on green grass.”
In a recent New York Times article, “How to Tell if a Company’s Claim of Ethical Practices is True,” attorney Richard Stone, who is handling litigation for the PETA suit against Vital Farms, says that the company is “somewhat of a darling” in the environmental, social and governance, or E.S.G., movement.
Stone told the New York Times, “The only thing [Vital Farms does] differently than Costco eggs is they allow the chickens to have grass. There are still too many chickens and too little access outside.”
Vital Farms responded to the suit in a written statement, which said, per the New York Times, “We are transparent about what happens to male chicks as well as what happens once hens reach their post-laying life.”
The statement continued, “As for the industry-standard practice of dulling the tips of hens’ beaks, that is not done to harm the birds, but to protect them.”
Furthermore, Vital Farms is “pleased to offer products that value animals including by providing hens a meaningfully better life than the confinement they would face in the industrialized food system,” the statement concluded.
Vital Farms went public in August of last year, and is currently valued at approximately $845 million, off its high of $1.3 billion immediately after it went public, per the New York Times.