Tyson agrees to pay $5m in ‘antibiotic-free’ chicken settlement

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Meat giant Tyson has agreed to pay $5m to settle a class action law suit brought by US consumers over claims its processed chicken was antibiotic free.

According to the agreement filed in the US District Court in Baltimore this week, consumers will be able to each receive a maximum of $50, with four named plaintiffs in the case eligible for up to $20,000. Lawyer fees are expected to reach $3m.

Fairness hearing

Judge Richard D. Bennett is due to review the proposed settlement today at a fairness hearing and is expected to reach a decision on whether it should stand.

The US meat company was sued after it sold chicken products in the US in 2007-08 carrying label claims stating they were Raised Without Antibiotics” or “Raised Without Antibiotics That Impact Antibiotic Resistance in Humans.” These claims were misleading, it was alleged.

Tyson has denied all allegations of wrongdoing or liability against it and said its conduct was lawful. The settlement said Tyson has agreed to settle to “avoid the expense, inconvenience, and inherent risk of litigation, as well as the concomitant disruption of its business operations”.

In 2008, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ordered the company to remove any antibiotic-free claims from its chicken labels.

Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told FoodProductionDaily.com: “We’re pleased a settlement has been reached and will now wait for the court to review and we hope approve the agreement. Our 'Raised Without Antibiotics' chicken initiative, which we started in 2007, was suspended in 2008 due to labelling challenges. While we believe our company acted appropriately, we also believe it makes sense for us to resolve this legal matter and move on.”

Consumer claims

If the settlement is approved, consumers who purchased a range of Tyson chicken products between June 2007 and April 2009 will be eligible to make compensation claims, with advertisements scheduled to be placed in over 400 media outlets to raise awareness of the deal.

If the total amount of claims, notice costs, administrative costs, and incentive awards is less than $5 million, the company would be forced to donate its products to food banks to make up the difference in value.

Lawyer James Pizzirusso, of Hausfield LLP, said: “It’s about getting money in the hands of consumers and deterring this kind of conduct in the future.”

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