Weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent Hampton Creek Foods a letter warning that its Just Mayo is misbranded because it does not contain eggs, emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reportedly indicate that the American Egg Board (AEB) and a public relations firm made a concerted effort to remove Just Mayo from the market. The emails reportedly detail the actions the group undertook, including a complaint to FDA, an attempt to convince Whole Foods to stop selling Just Mayo, aid to Unilever in its litigation against Hampton Creek, and payments to food bloggers who post about how “real and sustainable foods, like eggs,” fit into their lifestyles. Details about Unilever’s lawsuit against Hampton Creek appear in Issue 549 of this Update.
Public health attorney Michele Simon posted the emails on her blog, alleging that AEB likely broke laws during its attempt to quash Hampton Creek. “Checkoff programs like the Egg Board are legally required to stay within the boundaries of advertising, promotion, consumer education, and research,” she wrote in her post. “Specifically not allowed are lobbying activities. The statute says that no funds shall ‘be used for the purpose of influencing government policy or action.’”
Josh Tetrick, head of Hampton Creek, said, “[W]e are calling for a Congressional investigation into what happened, and we’re optimistic that Congress takes us up on that. We are talking to leaders on both sides of the aisle about potentially investigating some of the things that are out there.”
In response to the allegations, AEB has denied any inappropriate use of resources. A spokesperson reportedly said, “AEB has never used checkoff funds for lobbying purposes,” and noted that the emails about blog sponsorships were from 2012 and unrelated to Hampton Creek. Tetrick and Simon also asserted that a now-retired U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official, National Shell Egg Supervisor Roger Glasshoff, assisted in the campaign by suggesting AEB turn to FDA for help, but USDA issued a statement indicating that it found Glasshoff’s actions to be appropriate because he “fielded a call about a regulatory question and simply referred the inquirer to the correct regulatory authority.” See Inc., September 2, 2015; FoodNavigator-USA, September 15, 2015.