Nonprofits Challenge Cargill's 'Independent Family Farmers' Claims

Several nonprofit organizations have filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission accusing global food corporation Cargill Inc. of making false claims about its purported relationships with “independent family farmers.”

The allegations, filed with the FTC’s Division of Advertising Practices, Bureau of Consumer Protection, pertain to Cargill’s Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White turkey brands.

The groups’ complaint alleges that certain of Cargill’s packaging, social media and website representations lead consumers to believe the turkeys used in the company’s products are raised by independent family farmers.

“Cargill is egregiously misleading consumers with these representations, because the Products are in fact produced on large, corporate-controlled factory farms,” the complaint states. 



“Far from the bucolic family farms portrayed by Cargill’s marketing, Cargill’s actual production methods exploit contract farmers and slaughterhouse workers, systematically abuse animals, and cause grave harms to the environment.”

The complaint was filed Nov. 23 by Family Farm Action Alliance, Venceremos, Mighty Earth, Animal Equality, Organic Consumers Association and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

They are asking the FTC to “enjoin the dissemination of false or deceptive advertising” by Cargill—the country’s largest privately held company.

In this Honeysuckle White video posted July 14, 2020 on YouTube, the voiceover describes “great-tasting turkey raised by independent family farmers with care.” Visuals of parents and kids are accompanied by the words “these hard-working farm families.” 

Joe Maxwell, president of the Family Farm Action Alliance, says a key issue is consumer demand for independent, family farmed products.

“Unfortunately, there are companies like Cargill that are filling that demand with substandard-type products,” Maxwell tells Marketing Daily. “These types of [advertising] practices deceive the consumer into thinking that they’re getting what it is they’re searching for in the grocery store.”

The complaint cites Shady Brook Farms and Honeysuckle White packaging that includes the claim “Raised by independent family farmers.”

This Shady Brook Farms video posted Dec. 2, 2019 on YouTube features “independent family farmer” Micah Heatwole, who is identified as a turkey farmer in Virginia. 

At the video’s conclusion, Heatwole says, “I’m really proud to raise turkeys for Shady Brook Farms.”

Asked whether it’s possible that Cargill uses any independent family farms, Maxwell says, “We do not have a list of all their producers because you can’t obtain that. I will tell you that label claims have to have an affidavit by the producer, and that affidavit is to be kept at the processing plant, at the slaughterhouse. Those are not public documents.

“It could very well be that some of the turkeys coming from Cargill, they could buy them on the open market. We believe that’s very, very doubtful. And even if they do, it doesn’t fix the problem because the volume of their sales and their business model strongly supports that they own these birds.”

In a separate legal matter, on June 5, 2020 The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Department of Justice had issued civil subpoenas to the four biggest beef processors—JBS USA Holdings Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., Cargill Inc. and National Beef Packing Co.—seeking information about pricing practices.

Marketing Daily reached out to Cargill for comment but had not heard back by deadline.

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