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Ben & Jerry's sued over 'happy cow' characterization

The Associated Press — By LISA RATHKE - Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Ben & Jerry's is facing a lawsuit accusing the ice cream maker and its parent company of false advertising by saying the milk and cream in its products comes from "happy cows."

In a complaint filed Oct. 29 in federal court in Burlington, Vermont, where Ben & Jerry's was founded, environmental advocate James Ehlers said that many of the farms that produce the milk and cream are factory-style, mass production dairy operations and only some are part of the company's "Caring Dairy" program.

"In contrast to what Unilever has told consumers, the Products are made from a mixture of (1) milk that comes from farms participating in the "Caring Dairy" program and (2) milk that comes from cows on factory-style, mass-production dairy operations," the complaint said.

Ben & Jerry's spokesman Sean Greenwood emailed Friday that the company doesn't comment on pending lawsuits. He said the company is proud of the work it's done with Vermont's family farms and believes its "Caring Dairy" program is the most progressive in the industry.

"We're committed to building a resilient, regenerative dairy supply," he wrote.

That includes building soil health through increased cover crops, alternative tilling practices, rotational crops and grazing techniques, according to company's website about its voluntary "Caring Dairy" program, which also says high quality animal care will produce a higher quality milk.

The complaint by Ehlers, a former gubernatorial candidate, accuses Ben & Jerry's and Unilever of violating the Vermont consumer protection act, breach of express warranty and unjust enrichment.

It says Unilever has breached the trust of consumers who are at risk of "real and immediate threat of repeated injury, including purchasing deceptively labeled and packaged products sold at prices above their true market value."

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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This story has been corrected to show the date of the court filing is Oct. 29, not Oct. 31.