The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has completed a report reviewing nine allegations of misconduct asserted by Josh Tetrick, head of Just Mayo producer Hampton Creek, against the American Egg Board (AEB). The report concludes that AEB staff and board members engaged in inappropriate conduct, including failing to adhere to USDA guidelines, targeting a specific company and sending inappropriate emails.
The report found substantiation for five of Tetrick’s nine allegations: (i) AEB employees exchanged inappropriate emails about Tetrick, including references such as, “Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?” and “old buddies from Brooklyn pay him a visit”; (ii) an AEB executive accepted a consultant’s offer to contact Whole Foods Market Inc. in an effort to persuade the company to stop stocking Just Mayo, although the consultant never actually contacted the company; (iii) a public relations expert conducted market research on egg-replacement products, identifying Just Mayo specifically in violation of guidelines against targeting a specific company; (iv) AEB developed egg-positive pop-up ads to display when consumers searched for terms related to “Beyond Eggs,” including “Hampton Creek, Inc.,” “Josh Tetrick” and “Just Mayo”; and (v) AEB executives violated guidelines in creating internal budget and program documents specifically identifying Just Mayo. The report also notes that AEB staff will be required to complete additional training on appropriate activities and procedures.
Four of Tetrick’s allegations were unfounded, the report concluded, because they constituted regular activities for a research and promotion board. That AEB paid bloggers to promote the benefits of consuming and cooking with eggs was a standard practice and not an effort to “discredit Hampton Creek, Inc., online,” as Tetrick alleged. In addition, AEB’s attempt to join The Association of Dressings & Sauces could not be construed as an attempt to manipulate standards, and AEB did not intervene in Unilever’s litigation with Hampton Creek when an executive informed Unilever that AEB could not support the litigation nor make a statement. Finally, AMS could not find any evidence to support the allegation that AEB attempted to persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pursue action against Hampton Creek for labeling issues.
The AMS memo about the report specifies that at the time the agency initiated the review, “all of the inappropriate activities had stopped.” Additional details on the allegations appear in Issue 578 of this Update.