Calif. Judge Tosses Out PETA Lawsuit Against California 'Happy Cows' Ads

September 6, 2012 - 6:17 PM

Happy Cows

"Happy Cows" ad. (Photo credit: California Milk Advisory Board)

(CNSNews.com) - A California judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) seeking to stop California dairy farmers from running TV ads touting how happy, healthy and well-cared for dairy herds are.

PETA, which filed the lawsuit in 2011, had argued that the California Milk Advisory Board and the California Department of Food and Agriculture had violated state rules that bar misleading or inaccurate marketing with the “Happy Cows” ads.

The animal rights group had demanded that California dairy farmers prove that California cows are “happy cows,” as the milk board claimed in the ads.

According to court documents, PETA had specifically complained that “most California dairy cows are subjected to physical and psychological pain and stress caused by intense and uncomfortable dairying practices, have a high risk of suffering from a number of diseases, and die prematurely” and that “dairy producers take into account the animals’ wellbeing only to the extent that it is economically advantageous to do so.”

PETA claimed that the Milk Advisory Board was “lying about the condition of actual cows at actual California dairies.”

But in an Aug. 24 decision, Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly in Sacramento dismissed the suit, ruling that PETA had failed to provide any evidence that California dairy farms mistreat dairy cows.

Connelly held that state agriculture inspectors and the state dairy board had “extensive experience and knowledge that provides strong evidentiary support” justifying the dairy board's claims that California dairy farmers “are very concerned about the health, comfort and safety of their cows” and “adhere to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S.”

The judge further found that the marketing statements in the promotion “are general assertions about the efforts of California dairy farmers in caring for their cows, not factual representations of the health status and comfort level of the cows or the particular practices and standards used by farmers to care for the cows.”

The California Milk Advisory Board applauded the ruling.

“California dairy families take the well-being and care of their cows very seriously,” Jennifer Gambrioli, spokeswoman for the California Milk Advisory Board, told CNSNews.com.

However, PETA’s director of litigation, Martina Bernstein, said in denying the petition, the judge had “excluded all the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals and U.S. Department of Agriculture surveys.”

“The evidence shows that disease and suffering is rampant -- more than 30 percent of cows suffer from udder infections, painful swollen knees, and hoof disorders, such as foot rot, ulcers, and abscesses, resulting in lameness and premature death,” Bernstein added.

But in his ruling, Judge Connelly declared that  PETA had provided only general “declarations” about dairy farming and had provided no “data specific to California dairy farms, and no expert opinion testimony is offered to explain the data or relate it to the dairy farms.”

The judge also said that state veterinarians and agriculture officials regularly inspect California dairy farms, and are in a better position, scientifically, to know what condition the state’s cows are in.

“(Their) evidence stands in sharp contrast to nonprobative anecdotal information about the condition and care of cows on six or twelve dairy farms among the more than 1,600 farms in the state,” Connelly wrote.

“Statistical surveys and studies may be more detailed and systematic, but the aggregated experience and knowledge of Department personnel provides comprehensive and reliable information relevant to the care of cows on California dairy farms.”

PETA, meanwhile, said it is “continuing a review of the judge's decision in order to determine its next step.”