Dos Toros faces class action lawsuit over ‘humanely raised’ meat claims

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Diving brief:

  • A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday against Dos Toros — a taqueria concept with about 20 locations in New York, New Jersey and Chicago — alleging the chain misleadingly claimed its pork and chicken products were “naturally” and “humanely” elevated on store signage.
  • According to the complaint, Dos Toros pork and chicken suppliers raise animals in “unnatural and inhumane industrial facilities where the animals have no access to the outdoors” and where they are “extremely confined”. The complaint also alleges that animals were abused by Dos Toros suppliers. The lawsuit alleges workers beat boiled pigs and chickens alive, as noted in U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports.
  • A rich man Law & Policy, the law firm representing the plaintiffs, says such deceptive marketing tactics are designed to appeal to American consumers, who are “increasingly consciously seeking and will pay more” for animal products sourced from cruelty-free suppliers.

Overview of the dive:

Companies have focused more on changing their supply chain in recent years. Several chains – including Panera and Taco Bell – are moving to cage-free eggs, for example, while others have removed or reduced antibiotics from meat supply chains. Chipotle even suspended the sale of pork at hundreds of restaurants after it found a supplier failed to meet its “humanely high” standards.

State laws and ballot measures have led to animal welfare improvements in the industry, with 14 states banning some or all forms of animal confinement.

The issue has contributed to a rise in lawsuits over “misleading food labels”. According to the New York Times, 220 class action lawsuits were filed against food and beverage companies in 2020, a record from 45 lawsuits 10 years ago. The increase is partly due to the lack of monitoring of claims such as “all natural”.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Whole Foods over its “cruelty-free meat” claims in 2015, while Chipotle faced a “naturally raised” meat lawsuit in 2013 and a non-GMO lawsuit in 2016. Panera faced a class action lawsuit over its “100% clean” claims in 2019.

Most of those lawsuits have been dismissed, according to the New York Times, but the increase in those lawsuits and consumer sentiment indicate that the problem is not going away. Even investors have felt emboldened to pressure chains, as Carl Icahn did over McDonald’s pork sourcing in February. Such pressure led Darden to agree to start sourcing pork products from suppliers in 2016 that don’t use gestation crates, for example.

Younger consumers are also more aware of what goes into their food and how it’s delivered, so that pressure isn’t going to go away and lawsuits could increase over misleading menu claims. The data supports Richman Law & Policy’s claims about consumer buying habits: 77% of consumers are concerned about animal welfare as it applies to their food, according to a survey by Technological and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and they’re willing to pay more for more humane options.

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