The government-appointed American Egg Board (AEB) has apparently intervened in a questionable fashion to support the egg industry’s attempt to crush a San Francisco startup company specializing in eggless products.
The London Guardian and the Associated Press say they uncovered emails from lobbyists representing egg producers that targeted the sales of Hampton Creek, which produces Just Mayo, a vegan mayonnaise substitute that contains no eggs. The egg replacement company was seen as a threat to the $5.5 billion-a-year egg industry.
The campaign targeted prominent publications, high-profile food bloggers, and even a celebrity chef to help in the fight against Hampton Creek, viewed as a “crisis and major threat to the future” of the egg industry. One egg board executive is said to have joked about having Hampton Creek founder Josh Tetrick killed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a letter to Hampton Creek on August 12 warning them that their Just Mayo and Just Mayo Siracha products were mislabeled for a few different reasons. The most obvious was that mayonnaise, by law, must contain eggs. Just Mayo even includes an egg in its label design, but, sadly, is eggless.
The FDA also said the products falsely claim to be “cholesterol-free” and, therefore, good for the heart: “These products do not qualify to make these health claims.”
The AEB is funded by the egg industry, the USDA appoints its members. The board’s actions may have constituted a violation U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules that prohibit “any advertising (including press releases) deemed disparaging to another commodity.”
The anti-Hampton Creek campaign included:
· Targeting such publications as Forbes and Buzzfeed for their favorable articles about Hampton.
· Confronting Travel Channel host Andrew Zimmern after he featured Hampton Creek on his popular show Bizarre Foods.
· Attempting to stop Whole Foods grocery stores from carrying Hampton’s Just Mayo product.
· Purchasing and positioning AEB-backed ads to appear during Google searches for Hampton Creek or founder Josh Tetrick.
· Trying to recruit animal rights and autism activist Temple Grandin and the bestselling author and blogger Ree Drummond to publicly support the egg industry.
“They have gone way beyond what they are allowed to do,” said Tetrick, who has requested a congressional inquiry, according to The Guardian. “They are not used to competition and they don’t know how to deal with it.” A petition started on the White House website, calling for an investigation of the USDA itself over its role in the affair, has garnered thousands of signatures.